A State of ‘Agreeable Disorder’: Temporary Film Studios in Post-war Italy

By Catherine O’Rawe

In January 1946 the Italian film magazine Star, in a response to a reader’s request for information on how to contact the country’s major studio, Cinecittà, advised him: 

It’s pointless to address your letter to Cinecittà. The celluloid metropolis has temporarily concluded its proud career with an act of true public usefulness: hosting thousands of refugees. […] Today’s Italian films are being shot in the strangest of places: cellars, sacristies, attics (Anon. 1946a: 6).

As the anonymous author noted, Cinecittà had been requisitioned by the Allied forces since 1944; it would not resume production until late 1947, and its hosting of refugees and prisoners of war has been documented by Steimatsky (2009 and 2020). Other studios such as Tirrenia in Tuscany, and Titanus-Farnesina in Rome were also under Allied control; Titanus would resume production in mid-1946, Tirrenia not until 1949 (see Anon. 1946b).

Much has been written about the globally influential movement of post-war Italian neorealism as an ideological rejection of the space of the film studio, in favour of a more authentic engagement with space and place, as part of Italy’s post-fascist ‘rebirth’. However, the reality is more complex: firstly, some of the films considered as canonically neorealist were shot partly in studios, such as Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià/Shoeshine(1946) and Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (1948), both filmed at Safa-Palatino studios. Secondly, it was contingency that forced this opening up to location shooting, which was also happening in other countries, as reported in Richard Farmer’s blog post on Britain. While there was a greater incorporation of location shooting, favoured of course by Italy’s mild climate, Italian producers and directors resorted to a variety of expedients for shooting interior scenes in this period, creating what film critic Italo Dragosei referred to in November 1945 as conditions of ‘grazioso disordine’ (Dragosei 1945). Dragosei went on to compare the somewhat chaotic contemporary production panorama to Italy’s wartime black market economy, when ‘you would go into a fabric shop and find soles for shoes, the barber was selling cigarettes, the tobacco shop sold shoes, and the milkman fruit.’ This reminder of the precarious material conditions in which Italy found itself at the end of the war serves to frame the following brief discussion of some of the ways in which productions used or repurposed existing spaces for shooting. It is backed up by former production director Clemente Fracassi, active in the period, who remembers a type of guerrilla filming: ‘since we were going round shooting you had to strike agreements to shoot in particular places, get permits, set up an electric current, almost like thieves, since the Allies were using the electricity to power hospitals and schools, and there were no generators, and hardly any electric light in most cities’ (in Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma 1979: 166).

Probably the most celebrated Italian film of the period, Rossellini’s Roma città aperta/Rome Open City, was shot in January 1945, when Rome had been liberated by the Allies but while the war was ongoing. While the film is widely known for its use of the working-class areas of Rome, most of the interiors were shot in a makeshift studio run by veteran producer Liborio Capitani. Capitani’s ‘studio’, on Via degli Avignonesi in the centre of Rome, was in reality a basement hall which has been variously described as a former horse or dog-racing track, or as a betting shop (see Forgacs 2000). 

Director Roberto Rossellini with screenwriter Sergio Amidei in Capitani studio during shooting of Rome Open City.

Many myths have grown up around the shooting of Rossellini’s film, but it is clear from contemporaneous accounts that it was a challenging process, due partly to the need to shoot at night because of electricity shortages. The space, like most buildings in Rome in that winter with little electricity and heating available, was also freezing cold. Vito Annicchiarico, the child actor who played the son of Anna Magnani in the film recalls the studio’s ‘downtrodden air’ (in Ramogida 2016: 33), and notes that it was located next to a brothel frequented by Allied soldiers, which became part of the film’s ribald legend. Dragosei, on his visit to the studio, noted that the door was opened by a maid, and that the empty space contained only a couple of spotlights to indicate that it was being used for film shoots.

A glimpse of the austere shooting space during filming of Rome Open City.

Cinematographer Aldo Tonti, although he did not work on Rossellini’s film, discussed it in his memoir, noting how the low voltage allowed by electricity companies was inadequate for film production, and Italians would respond by jamming the meters manually (Tonti 1964: 103). Tonti also remembered how the ACI studios in Rome had only two soundstages at that time, both of which were being used for shooting. There was not enough electricity for both films, so the productions had to take turns to shoot with look-outs announcing when the other had finished! (ibid.).

Makeshift and run-down as it was, Capitani was at least recorded as a film studio: in a 1948 MGM survey of film production facilities in Italy, it is listed in the lowest class of studio, as having no soundproofing and ‘some lighting equipment’. Many of the other spaces used for shooting at this time could not be described as studios at all; Dragosei (1945) notes the proliferation of ‘primitive and improvised studios, in the same vein as everything else on the Italian peninsula’. Among these we can count the gym in Bari in southern Italy converted into a sound stage for the film L’amante del male/The Lover of Evil (Bianchi Montero, 1946), or in Turin, a gym that was repurposed by director Alberto Lattuada for his noir neorealist classic Il bandito/The Bandit in the same year. Aldo Tonti, the director of photography on Lattuada’s film, complained (1964: 113) about the lack of soundproofing in the gym, with noises constantly coming in from the street, while it was also impossible to keep the daylight out. 

Problems were also caused in many of these buildings by lack of adequate space, not least for the many electrical cables required. A correspondent from the magazine Film d’oggi visited the shoot of the Resistance film Il sole sorge ancora/Outcry, being directed by Aldo Vergano in December 1945; shooting was taking place in a real Milanese brothel, transformed by production director Giacinto Solito into a studio, and the journalist immediately noted the cables snaking dangerously up and down the stairs ‘like snakes’ and the blinding glare of lights everywhere in the small space (Anon. 1945). Shooting was also disrupted during the journalist’s visit, comically, by the arrival of real patrons of the brothel, something that is apocryphally related about Rome Open City as well.

Rogue cables also proved problematic on the set of the comedy Che distinta famiglia!/What a Distinguished Family, shot in August 1945 in the former MGM dubbing studio in Rome. It seems that this small studio, formerly used by MGM only for post-synchronization work, was now being used for shooting, due to the absence of viable alternatives. The journalist visiting the set for Film d’oggi reports that the actors gather around the ‘improvised bar’ upstairs (no staff canteen here!), and notes that while the actors consume only cappuccino and pastries, they look on enviously as a visiting producer enjoys savoury supplì in front of them (Guerrini 1945a). Meanwhile downstairs, director of photography Anchise Brizzi trips over a cable and falls to the floor, cursing the lack of space.

Actors and director play rock, paper, scissors during a break in shooting in the cramped space of the former MGM dubbing studio (Film d’oggi, August 1945, p. 5).

Resourcefulness, like the black market, was everywhere: in May 1946, Giorgio Ferroni’s Pian delle Stelle, funded by the Italian National Partisans’ Association, managed to construct two sound stages in the town of Belluno in the Dolomites, complete with soundproofing and electric current (La cinematografia italiana, 11-18 May 1946, p. 12). While some of these expedients are attributed to the need for realism, others are admitted to be due to the need for cost-cutting: on his visit to the set of the film Veglia nella notte/Vigil in the Night, being shot in December 1945 in the old army barracks on Via Asiago in Rome, film journalist Tito Guerrini is scathing about the corners being cut in order to film on a tiny budget of 10 million lire, and calls the impromptu studio ‘a hut’ (Guerrini 1945b). It seems that filming was happening everywhere in this chaotic period: rather than build nightclub sets, it was presumably easier to go and film there, as was the case with Rossellini’s Paisà/Paisan (1946), and Ferroni’s Tombolo, paradiso nero/Tombolo (1947). Castles were employed (the Castello degli Odescalchi used in Aquila nera/The Black Eagle (Freda, 1946), or authentic artists’ studios on Via Margutta in Rome (Le modelle di via Margutta/The Models of Via Margutta, Scotese, 1945). 

Although my focus has been here on the immediate post-war period, even before the liberation of Rome, shooting was happening in ad hoc spaces, following the occupation of Cinecittà by the Germans in September 1943. In March 1944, director Vittorio De Sica asked by the Vatican to make the religious drama La porta del cielo/The Gates of Heaven. He agreed, mainly as a way to avoid being sent to Venice where filmmaking was taking place in the Fascist Republic. The film was thus shot during the German occupation of Rome, partly in the cellars of the church of San Bellarmino in the upmarket Parioli district, and partly in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The long-drawn-out shoot, which included hundreds of extras, caused many problems, and the lack of proper facilities for cast and crew was a glaring one. De Sica recalled how he was perched on a crane trying to get a shot, all the time unaware that extras were relieving themselves in the confessionals! (De Sica 2004: 88).

Outside of Rome, a fascinating centre of production in the immediate post-war period was Naples, which saw the emergence of what became known as the ‘filone napoletano’ or Neapolitan genre. These low-budget films in a melodramatic and sentimental vein, specifically targeted at southern audiences, by the 1950s were being shot in Roman studios. However, as Gaudiosi (2019: 37) argues about the immediate post-war period in Naples: ‘many films had budgets of round about the derisory amount of 40 million lire, and tended to avoid studios, using very small crews’. Very little is known about these localised filming experiences, but it is to be hoped that information may yet emerge from the Italian archives, which would help to complicate and enrich the critical picture of post-war Italian film; the opposition between location shooting and studio shooting is not really tenable in the immediate post-war period, which is instead, as we have seen, marked by a strong tendency towards hybrid and precarious filming practices.

References

Anon. (1945). ‘Dappertutto Il sole sorge ancora. Ma non in certe case di Via S. Pietro all’Orto’, in Film d’oggi, 15 December, p. 4.

Anon. (1946a). ‘Servizio Lampo’, in Star, 12 January, p. 6.

Anon. (1946b). ‘La situazione degli stabilimenti di Cinecittà e Tirrenia’, in La cinematografia illustrata, 11-18 May, p. 5.

Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma (ed.) (1979). La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930/70. Rome: Napoleone. 

De Sica, Vittorio (2004). La porta del cielo. Memorie 1901-1952. Cava de’ Tirreni: Avagliano.

Dragosei, Italo (1945). ‘Cinema senza Cinecittà’, in Star, 17 November, p. 2.

Gaudiosi, Massimiliano (2019). ‘Cantate con noi: canzoni, pubblico e censura nel filone napoletano’, in L’Avventura, 1, 35-48.

Guerrini, Tito (1945a). ‘A Roma si gira negli stabilimenti della “Metro”’, in Film d’oggi, 4 August, p. 5.

Guerrini, Tito (1945b). ‘Si gira Veglia nella notte fra litigi e disavventure’, in Film d’oggi, 8 December, p. 9.

Ramogida, Simonetta (2016). Roma città aperta. Vito Annicchiarico il piccolo Marcello racconta il set con Anna Magnani Aldo Fabrizi Roberto Rossellini. Rome: Gangemi.

Steimatksy, Noa (2009). ‘The Cinecittà Refugee Camp, 1944-1950′, in October, 128, 22-50.

Steimatksy, Noa (2020). ‘Backlots of the World War. Cinecittà 1942-50′, in In the Studio: Visual Creation and its Material Environments, ed. Brian Jacobson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 122-142.

Tonti, Aldo (1964). Odore di cinema. Florence: Vallecchi.

Studios in the Festive Season

As the nights draw in and 2021 approaches retirement, this STUDIOTEC bumper blog looks at how the festive season was acknowledged by film studios in Germany, France, Italy and Britain.

In Germany Seasons’ Greetings regularly appeared in film magazines listing a studio’s biggest films.   Here are two examples from 1930, illustrating the significance of Munich’s Emelka and Berlin’s Ufa in these New Year and Christmas greetings:

Christmas and New Year was a time to release new films, a tactic that continues to this day. In 1931, Karl Lamac’s Die Fledermaus premiered on Christmas Day across 36 German cities, as well as in Vienna and Copenhagen. Quite an undertaking, suggesting cinema as a popular draw for family outings after the Christmas Eve celebrations. 

Promoting Christmas with the stars has long been a diet for film fans around the world, a peek into their homes affording an opportunity for studios to promote the glamour of their major stars. An article entitled ‘Christmas in Hollywood’ – actually an account of Ernst Lubitsch’ career difficulties in America – includes this illustration of Ufa’s Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch, complete with a suitably large tree, Santa Claus and animals, perhaps two of which may be destined for the table…!

The same edition of the magazine ran an article on how to shoot winter scenes without snow. Who needs real snow anyway, when it can be made in the film studio, that workshop of artifice and illusion? Nikolaus Sandor’s 1929 patent application (DE 488567) claimed to create ‘snow landscapes’ and a 1950 patent from Grünzweig & Hartmann (DE 1611199) listed ‘artificial snow for film, stage and shop windows’. Striving to find the ideal form for winter decorations, Max C. Baumann (DE 643566, 1932), boasted the superiority of his invention over existing compounds which he cited as using cotton wool, ground gypsum, glass, mica, magnesia, starch and … asbestos. Wait a minute – did he really say asbestos?! 

The cinema side of film business was clearly hard at work on Christmas Day, but what about activity in the studios? A board memo from 1937 noted that operations at Babelsberg and Tempelhof would close at 13:00 on both 24 and 31 December and remain closed on 2 January 1938 (BArch R 109-I/1032a). Meeting records indicate that Ufa’s board often met on Christmas Eve, and were already back around the table by the 27th – clearly there was no time for slacking! Christmas Eve being more significant in Germany than Christmas Day, one might assume that board discussions were concluded promptly in order to get home in time for the night’s celebrations to begin – or perhaps for a quick Glühwein in the Babelsberg bar? 

In 1937 an allowance of RM 2,000 was granted for Christmas presents for the 700 children of workers at Babelsberg and Tempelhof, or a little under RM3 per child. 

Gifts which Santa duly handed out!

Other indications of how employees were treated show that Christmas bonuses (at least from 1934) were given to lower paid staff, carefully calibrated to take into account marital status and number of children. This was the arrangement for 1934:

StatusBonus
Single, with a monthly income of RM150 or lessRM20
Single, with a monthly income between RM150 and RM225RM30
Married with 1 child or married with no children with a monthly income of RM250 or less RM45
Married with 2 children with a monthly income of RM300 or lessRM60
Married with 3 children with a monthly income of RM300 or lessRM75

(BArch R 109-I/2420) 

Straining to turn the hands, who better to herald in the New Year than Emil Jannings, ready to welcome 1930, the year our STUDIOTEC project begins?

From the beginning of the 1930s, Christmas was an important feature of the French industry calendar. Cinema frontages were lavishly decorated, seasonal programmes announced, and the cinema press was full of signed photographs of stars sending festive wishes to their public. The Christmas season was also a moment for studios and production houses to bring employees and their families together around the traditional Christmas tree. The biggest companies, like Pathé and Gaumont, would hold their events sometimes away from the studio workplace, usually in cinema halls belonging to their group. One such event for ‘children of employees and workers of the Joinville and Francoeur studio’ was held at the Lyon Pathé cinema in Paris on the 19th December 1937. After a show featuring puppets, clowns, and singers, the children were treated to a screening of colour cartoons and received individual gifts. The singing and dancing that took place around the tree in the foyer was of course captured for posterity by the cameras of Pathé-Journal

During wartime, such events had a more social purpose, offering some comfort to children whose fathers were either mobilised or at the front. From as early as December 1939, dedicated aid committees for mobilised soldiers, their wives and families (the ‘Comité central d’aide aux mobilisés du cinéma’ and the ‘Comité d’aide aux femmes de combattants’ chaired by the actress Françoise Rosay), arranged for a Christmas tree to be displayed in the premises of the magazine Cinémonde. But after the defeat of France in June 1940, Christmas events took on a more overtly political dimension. At Francoeur studios in December 1941, 700 children of absent fathers had to endure a speech by Georges Lamirand, the Vichy Minister for Youth. Under the patronage of the Pétainist weekly paper Jeunesse, and popular actors like Paulette Dubost, Pierre Larquey and Jean Tissier, the event served as a showcase for the promotion of Pétainist family values, and a public statement of the Vichy régime’s support for the children of French prisoners. Three days later, it was the turn of the Régent cinema in the affluent Neuilly district to host a children’s party, this time in the presence of Raoul Ploquin (the director of the Vichy organising committee for cinema, the COIC) and Dr Dietrich, head of the German propaganda services for the cinema. 

In spite of the economic and material hardships of the post-war years, the studios were quick to embrace their Christmas traditions again, and to host family events that were festive rather than political. On 6th January 1946, The Gaumont Buttes Chaumont studio organised a great party in the set of a film they were currently shooting (Jeux de femme by Maurice Cloche), and distributed cakes and other delicious treats to more than 100 children. But the wave of redundancies that hit the studios in 1947-48 put an end to this tradition, as film technicians lost their connection with a particular studio or production company.

In Italy, the jewel in the cinema production crown, Cinecittà, was often visited by dignitaries, and a 1953 clip from the Istituto Luce shows Undersecretary of State Teodoro Bubbio distributing Christmas gifts to children inside the studio. The newsreel emphasises how Cinecittà functioned as a kind of ambassador for both the Italian cinema industry and the for the state itself as generous benefactor. Popular Italian film stars were often recruited to appear at these philanthropic Christmas events, as if to remind ordinary people that the stars were not so distant after all: a 1952 Christmas dinner for the poor in Milan featured comic stars Walter Chiari and Nino Taranto providing festive cheer to the hundreds of children eating their free meal. 

The fact that the cinema is a space of festivity and joy is also shown by other charity Christmas events held in cinemas, such as a distribution of gifts to children of state employees in Rome’s Supercinema in 1953. 

Film magazines liked to do features on what the stars were doing for Christmas, picturing them at home with their Christmas trees and talking about the gifts they would like. And as a 1950 report in Film d’Oggi made clear, the Italian industry downed tools for several weeks in December, with stars departing for the Dolomites or Capri, and few remaining in Rome. However, the magazine ends the piece with a disapproving mention of rather rotund noted comic star Aldo Fabrizi, spotted out dancing at a nightclub at a Christmas party. Fabrizi, and the readers, are reminded that Christmas dinners can put on weight, so for the stars there is to be no respite from the pressures of the film industry, even during the festive season.

British studios also celebrated the festive season. In October 1946 Pinewood’s Music, Art and Drama group was preparing for their pantomime production of Cinderella, to be performed in one of the studio theatres’ smaller stages. Some interesting Pinewood employees were involved, including Geoff Woodward of the Art Department who wrote the script and lyrics, and a few years later worked as frame supervisor on several films produced using The Independent Frame, a time-saving production technique developed at Pinewood. The pantomime was produced by Adele Raymond, a casting director who had cast several of Powell and Pressburger’s films. Film publicist Lillana Wilkie played the Prince, in addition to assisting Valerie Turner in directing the pantomime, and production secretary Cynthia Frederick acted the part of Cinderella. The pantomime encouraged staff to try their hand at doing a job they were unfamiliar with: ‘Although many of the people taking part are “professionals”, it can truly be said that Cinderella is a show in the best tradition of amateur theatricals – as the distribution of parts and jobs has been so arranged that no professional takes part in his or her own professional field’. This would appear to be the case although the décor and costumes were by Bill Holmes, an assistant art director on In Which We Serve (1942), and draughtsman in the Art Department for Great Expectations (1946). The production was the most ambitious undertaking by the recently formed Group which had J. Arthur Rank as its President and D&P Studios’ managing director Spencer Reis as Vice-President. The Group had 100 members, or 10% of studio personnel, and as well as performances activities included gramophone recitals held fortnightly in one of the studio theatres when free and exhibitions of drawings in the picture gallery of the Club House. Members included well-known names such as musical director and composer Muir Mathieson; cinematographer Ronald Neame; art director Teddy Carrick, and film stars Deborah Kerr and Valerie Hobson.

The December 1946 issue of the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round studio magazine featured a Christmas cover credited to still photographer Charlie Trigg and others. 

The same issue reported that due to scheduling issues the ‘Pinewood Pantomeers’ had to put forward their performance by a week to the end of December. The shorter preparation time meant that ‘production had to be speeded up, rehearsal efforts doubled – and everybody put generally on their toes to get the show knocked into shape’. Even though the emphasis was primarily on fun and enjoyment, there was clearly more than a touch of professionalism evident when the ‘enthusiast’ ballet dancers were taken as part of their training for the pantomime see the Ballet Rambert perform Giselle. This outing clearly made an impact since in January 1947 during the ‘revelry’ of the Pinewood’s New Year’s Ball, ‘the Pinewood Ballet took the floor to give a repeat performance of their excerpt from the Pantomime, and earned unstinted applause’. The piano accompaniment was provided by Vivian Shaw of Cineguild’s Art Department, which he followed up with an impromptu selection during the band interval. The ballet was choreographed by sketch artist Ivor Beddoes. The pantomime’s audience consisted of members of the Music, Art and Drama Group, other Pinewood employees and their friends. Valerie Hobson and her mother attended, along with Spencer Reis and his wife. Illustrations were drawn of ‘Baron Nobubble’, played by Bill Holmes, and ‘The Talking Picture’ on a wall by Phil Shipway (who had been second unit assistant director on Great Expectations). 

A report in the Kinematograph Weekly noted how working in a film studio was incorporated into the production: ‘No one in the studio escaped the wit in Geoffrey Woodward’s script, which this art department man made to follow a film business background. First crack was about studio manager Hector Coward and Cinderella’s turkey was naïvely labelled: “Shot by Rank”’. Below is a ‘behind-the-curtain’ shot of the cast and the audience in the ‘stalls’.

We have recovered other traces of how British studios celebrated the festive season, including a children’s parties at Shepperton in 1952 and 1953 that featured London Films’ managing director Harold Boxall as Santa who ‘stepped from a huge pillar-box in the centre of the stage’ and handing out presents after the show. 

And of course the season was celebrated at Denham Studios, as seen here when Scruffy, canine star of British studios as reported in a previous blog, partied in style to wish everyone a happy time and all the best for 2022, as do we all from STUDIOTEC!

References

Anon. ‘L’arbre de Noël des enfants du personnel des studios Pathé-Natan’, Le Reporter du studio, 1er janvier 1938, p.1.

Anon. ‘L’arbre de Noël des enfants de mobilisés du cinéma’, La Cinématographie française, n°1105, 6 janvier 1940, p.6.

Anon. ‘Sous la présidence de Georges Lamirand, Chef de la jeunesse, 700 gosses de prisonniers ont participé au Noël de Jeunesse’, Jeunesse, n°52, 28 décembre 1941, p.1.

Anon. ‘Un arbre de Noël aux studios des Buttes Chaumont’, La Cinématographie française, n°1140, 19 janvier 1946, p.10.

Film-Magazin, 22 December 1929, p. 9; 29 December 1929, p. 3.   

Kinematograph, 25 December 1928, p. 3; 24 December 1930, p. 6; 31 December 1930, p. 15; 18 Dec ember 1931, p. 2. 

Kinematograph Weekly, 9 January 1947, p. 26; 1 January 1953, p. 24; 31 December 1953, p. 15.

Licht-Bild-Bühne, ‘Der Weihnachtsmann bei den Ufa-Kindern’, 22 December 1939, p. 3.

Gianni Padoan, ‘Cinecittà e dintorni’, in Film d’Oggi, 20 December 1950, p. 2.

Pinewood Merry-Go-Round, October 1946, p. 16; November 1946, p. 16; December 1946, p. 16; January 1947, pp. 2, 8-9.

Locating studio workers: Notes on Italy’s gendered film labour

By Carla Mereu Keating

As our research on the British, French, German and Italian film studios progresses, the STUDIOTEC team have identified a range of empirical and historiographic resources which document working practices and networks of film production between 1930 and 1960. Approaching the specific question of film labour in Italy, a large body of scholarship has been available to us. The majority of previous studies have foregrounded the personal and professional trajectories of Italian ‘movie makers’, the so-called above-the-line, managerial and ‘creative’, figures such as directors, producers, screenwriters and stars. A more limited number of studies focus instead on the activities of the ‘movie workers’ who performed below-the-line, manual and clerical work. This latter field of research is particularly stimulating because of the way it challenges understandings of gender and class discrimination in the Italian film industry. 

Several primary and secondary sources are available, digitally or in archives, to those who wish to research historical aspects of the Italian film industry. The digital film and media libraries of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema and of the Fondazione Cineteca Nazionale – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (CSC) are some of the platforms we used to investigate critical discourses in the specialised press, as well as aspects of production and distribution, advertising, and fandom. For the period 1930-60 one could also count on a number of print publications which aim to pass on memories of film production in Italy. Among them, Cinecittà anni trenta: parlano 116 protagonisti del secondo cinema italiano (1930-1943) (1979) (re-edited in 2021 in collaboration with the CSC) comprises three volumes of transcribed oral interviews recorded in the early 1970s with professionals who worked in the industry during (and after) the fascist dictatorship; the richly-illustrated volume La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930-70, also published in 1979, documents above and below-the-line work experiences over many years including through vivid photographs, as in these examples.

Set design workshop, Cinecittà, in La città del cinema

Development and printing laboratory, Cinecittà, in La città del cinema.

Both Cinecittà anni trenta and La città del cinema illustrate what has been remembered and celebrated about Italy’s film production culture as well as what has been left out of the frame, due to conscious or unconscious bias. Looking back at these records, it is also crucial to understand their influence on the formation of a particular historical knowledge, their production of filmmaking memories. As Katherine Groo has provocatively and convincingly argued, dominant regimes of film-historical thought remind us to engage with ‘a spectrum of approaches […] that does not save or salvage but instead acknowledges the permanent absences and “powers of the false”’ (2019: 8). They also remind historians to consider the boundaries of their own argument and their ethical obligations ‘to making visible and apparent the historicity of […] the processes of film historiography’ (9).  

Let’s take one example from the selection of interviews offered by La città del cinema. Of the 58 oral testimonies listed in the volume, only seven come from women, five of whom were actresses. Only the well-connected screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico (belonging to a family of renowned literary and artistic figures) and director Lina Wertmüller, whose work received high critical praise in the United States at the time (e.g., Seven Beauties 1977), were included in this selection (and Wertmüller’s is the shortest entry!). Among the thousands of movie makers and workers active in Italy between 1930 and 1970, only two were deemed ‘worthy’ of inclusion. 

Many established film histories do not acknowledge women’s varied careers and normalise male dominance in the Italian film industry, ignoring pioneering contributions to the field such as Cinzia Bellumori’s Le donne del cinema contro questo cinema (1972), a foundational enquiry into the conditions of the Italian female workforce in film production. Between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Bellumori conducted a series of interviews with women screenwriters, producers, production directors, costume designers, assistant directors, (dubbing) actresses, script supervisors and workers in film stock development plants to unearth clear evidence of sexual discrimination and of a precarious working landscape.

Some academic studies published in recent years have been more receptive to the gendered relationships governing the film industry, offering a broader range of possible historical epistemologies to help us respond to the specificities of local and transnational studio practice. A growing body of feminist research re-addresses the massive contribution of women to the film and media industries, past and present (e.g., Gledhill and Knight 2015; Hill 2016; Smyth 2018; Liddy 2020; Bell 2021). Key publications for Italy include the path-breaking Non solo dive: Pioniere del cinema italiano (2008) on the pioneers of silent cinema edited by Monica Dall’Asta (coordinator with Jane Gaines of the Women Film Pioneers Project) and Dalila Missero’s research on film editing (2018), which retraces the experiences of Italian women working in a patriarchal environment by focusing on figures such as Ornella Micheli, a prolific genre feature film editor active between the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1980s.  

Existing related literature on Italy does not cover STUDIOTEC’s entire thirty-year timeframe. There is still abundant scope to investigate the characteristics of the Italian film studios’ workforce, engaging with the key questions raised by previous studies from a national but also from a comparative perspective. Beyond archival repositories more (or less) traditionally used to document the history of Italian film production, a variety of alternative resources, digitised and available online, have become, out of necessity during the pandemic, a foundation for research into exclusionary patterns of employment and gender segregation in the studios.

Under-explored sources have offered insights into the Italian hierarchical film industry, quantifying and locating women’s presence in the studios. To give just one example, let us briefly consider the demographic profile of the industry as it emerged from the population and industrial-commercial censuses conducted in Italy between 1931 and 1961 by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). Among the many and various categories of workers registered by these statistical reports, there are shifting employment figures related to the macro-sector ‘industria dello spettacolo’ (an umbrella term for a wide range of cultural activities including cinema, theatre and sport in the performing arts/entertainment industry). These reports sometimes distinguish between the different branches of the entertainment sector, including the sub-sector ‘production, synchronization, film development and printing’ (this label also changes over the years). Here the film workforce is categorised nationally, regionally and by sex, and sometimes by age group and city provenance. I will discuss in more detail elsewhere how Italy’s film industry appears from these latter statistics, but they are important in so far as they help us quantify the contribution of male and female workers in the industry, including those whose labour has traditionally gone uncredited. These anonymous numerical figures present many limitations, one being that they do not tell us much about the professional mobility of this workforce (although they do reveal significant shifts in regional employment). They also lack data on salaries or any type of qualitative information which could shed light on workers’ day-to-day professional practice and help us understand how employment was impacted by (and impacted on) personal lives. In sum, these statistical data cannot provide insights into aspects of emotional labour that shaped women’s experiences in the film industry, such as those which emerge powerfully from the many case studies offered by Melanie Bell for Britain. 

In the attempt to reconsider or re-present women’s contribution to the Italian film industry, and in line with our specific focus on the studios, the spatial dimension of labour, that is to say the actual studio facilities where people worked (the laboratories, the offices, the stages, the workshops etc.), deserve special attention. Inspired by the work of British geographer Doreen Massey, I have begun asking: where did women work inside the studios? What can their workplace tell us about the quality of their occupation and their work routines? And what do women’s physical environments and spatial mobility within the studios tell us about their professional relationships with other members of the studio community, perhaps echoing their social status within the film industry more generally? Architectural plans, photographs taken on and off set and mediated representations of the studios provide additional evidence to corroborate some initial hypotheses.

Cines’ executives and clerical workers in La vita cinematografica, November 1930, p. 9.

In order to locate women’s physical and symbolic place in the industry it is necessary to find out first what were they hired to do. While many female workers remain invisible from the record, traces of their presence in the studios can be detected by following the trajectory of those whose work has been credited on screen, although often only by their surname, for example assistant directors Eugenia Handamir and Annalena Limentani, as seen in the opening credits of Paisà (1946).

The large filmographic datasets that Catherine O’Rawe and I are compiling, which collate opening credits of Italian (and Italian majority co-production) films produced and released in Italy between 1930 and 1960, is one of the tools at our disposal to interrogate structural inequalities in the film industry and their intimate connection with space and place.   

References

Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma. La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930/70, Roma: Napoleone, 1979.

Bell, Melanie. Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema. Urbana Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2021.

Bellumori, Cinzia. ‘Le donne del cinema contro questo cinema’, Bianco e nero, 1-2, 1972.

Dall’Asta, Monica (ed), Non solo dive. Pioniere del cinema muto. Bologna: Cineteca di Bologna, 2008.

Gledhill, Christine, and Julia Knight (eds). Doing Women Film History. Reframing Cinemas, Past and Future. Urbana Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

Groo, Katherine. Bad Film Histories. Ethnography and the Early Archive. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Hill, Erin. Never Done: A History of Women’s Work in Media Production. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

Liddy, Susan (ed). Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, Practice and Power. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Missero, Dalila. ‘Titillating Cuts: Genealogies of Women Editors in Italian Cinema’. Feminist Media Histories, 4 (2018): 57–82.

Savio, Francesco. Cinecittà Anni Trenta. Parlano 116 protagonisti del secondo cinema italiano (1930-1943). Roma: Bulzoni, 1979.

Smyth, J. E., Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Britain’s temporary post-war studios

By Richard Farmer

In the years following the Second World War, Ealing Studios was going places. Its experiment in making films in Australia had got off to a successful start with The Overlanders (1946) and would continue for another four films over the next decade or so (Morgan 2012), whilst significant parts of Another Shore (1948) were filmed in Dublin, and Where No Vultures Fly (1951) and West of Zanzibar (1954) were both shot in Kenya. Whilst the use of international settings offered spectacle to British viewers, and perhaps made the films more attractive in international markets, other factors fed into Ealing’s decision to film away from its west London home. Most important of these was the acute shortage of production space in Britain in the years after 1945: studios that were damaged or requisitioned during the war took time to come back into use, and although the difficulties eased as the process of reconstruction progressed, companies like Ealing that were based at smaller studios could often find it difficult to produce more than one film at a time (Baker 1946: 299). Another legacy of the war was an increased use of realist aesthetics inspired by the ‘wartime wedding’ of documentary and commercial filmmaking (Shearman 1946). As Ealing producer Sidney Cole stated, filmmakers in the period enthusiastically took cameras and microphones into the streets and fields: ‘In all our films we are striving for authenticity, and we find that this can only be achieved by filming against a background of actual places’ (Liverpool Evening Post, 26 April 1950: 6).  

St Brendan’s RC Church Hall, Barra. Home to Ealing’s Mobile Studio Units during the filming of Whiskey Galore!

This led Ealing to adopt a more peripatetic approach to the films it made in the UK, producing some features on location whilst others were being made at the company’s studio. To facilitate a multi-site production schedule, and so make more efficient use of equipment and personnel, Ealing established a Mobile Studio Unit (MSU), which was responsible for fitting out temporary indoor production facilities away from the studio proper. These temporary studios allowed interiors to be shot whilst the unit was still on location, although they were essentially blank canvasses and so differed from the already furnished and decorated rooms in country houses that were also sometimes used to shoot interiors in this period (Kinematograph Weekly, 12 September 1946: 12). The use of makeshift studios reduced, although did not always entirely eliminate, use of the permanent studio and so freed up space which could then be used by other productions. The first studio that the MSU rigged up was on the Hebridean island of Barra for Whisky Galore! (1949), and others followed on the Wirral for The Magnet (1950), in Bermondsey for Pool of London (1951) and in the village of Crinan, on Scotland’s west coast, for The Maggie (1954). It was not only Ealing that adopted this approach, and Blue Scar (1949) and Chance of a Lifetime (1950), which both made extensive use of location shooting, also converted empty buildings – the Electric Theatre cinema in Port Talbot and an abandoned woollen mill in Stroud, respectively – into temporary studios. 

Jill Craigie directs Blue Scar at the temporary Electric Theatre studio, Port Talbot.

Temporary studios could be cheaper than hiring a permanent studio, and allowed ‘local colour’ to be used more economically as improvising an interior shooting space on location meant that filmmakers did not need to transport extras and local props to London. More importantly, they also allowed work to continue when periods of bad weather made exterior filming impossible. In the controlled environment of a well-equipped studio, wind, rain and sunshine could be turned on and off according to a precise timetable. This was, obviously, not possible on location, no matter how carefully climatic data was scrutinised during the development of a production schedule. Location shooting left filmmakers at the mercy of the elements, and unhelpful meteorological conditions could leave cast and crew at a loose end. The cost of such inactivity, noted Monja Danischewsky, associate producer at Ealing, was not purely financial, but could also bring about an ‘intangible loss to the film through the browned-offness of the unit. A frustrated, dispirited unit has its effect on the finished film’ (Danischewsky 1948: 6). The weather on Barra during the Ealing unit’s time on the island during late summer and early autumn of 1948 was said to have been ‘the worst … for over 20 years,’ but the temporary studio ensured that at least some work could be done every day (Falkirk Herald, 13 October 1948: 6; Honri 1950b: 7). Indeed, whilst it was possible to complete most of Whisky Galore’s interiors whilst on Barra, the weather was so hostile that Ealing’s studio manager Baynham Honri claimed that some additional exteriors had to be completed ‘in the sunny south’ after the crew had returned to London (Honri 1950a: 110). Poor weather also plagued location shooting for The Magnet in May 1950, ensuring that the temporary studio earned its keep.

Meticulous pre-planning was required to ensure that there was something for the unit to do come rain or shine. Scripts and production schedules were carefully prepared so as to balance exterior and interior photography, with a slight prioritisation of the former, as the latter could usually be shot in a permanent studio at a later date should the need arise. For The Magnet, alternative versions of the script were written, with the decision about which one to used being made in consultation with the weather forecast (Kinematograph Weekly, 1 June 1950: 21). Sometimes, as with Whisky Galore!, scripts had to be adapted on the hoof (Danischewsky 1948: 7).

Inside the temporary studio on Barra.

Although they were undoubtedly a useful resource to be able to call upon, temporary studios were challenging spaces to work in. Most were small, with lower ceilings than permanent studios. That said, with careful pre-planning and a degree of inventiveness, the limitations imposed by these cramped quarters could be overcome; the 49ft by 25ft studio built in St Brendan’s RC church Hall on Barra, for instance, proved capable of accommodating 50 people for the betrothal party seen in Whisky Galore!  Art directors were tasked with designing sets that could be erected within the limited confines of the temporary studio. For Ealing productions, these sets were pre-fabricated in sections at the carpenters’ shop at the permanent studio so as to facilitate transportation to, and ingress into, the temporary studio, which had much smaller doors than did the sound stages (Morahan 1951: 80). Additional sets were rushed up to Merseyside during the filming of The Magnet after poor weather prevented the taking of exteriors and the unit ran out of scenes to shoot using the sets it had initially taken with it (Kinematograph Weekly, 4 May 1950: 33).  

Soundproofing the temporary studio for The Magnet.

As they had not been designed specifically for film production, temporary studios needed to be adapted for that purpose. The raked floor of the Electric cinema in Port Talbot had to be levelled before filming could commence, although the wood used warped during the course of production making camera movement ‘practically impossible’ (Honri 1950a: 117). Soundproofing was a key consideration, and felt and slag-wool the most commonly used materials: on Barra, the remoteness of the location meant that these measures were usually sufficient – ‘there were no … heavy traffic noises to contend with and no railway for 50 miles in one direction and about 3,000 miles in the other’ – but in Port Talbot the sound of train whistles caused delays (Danischewsky 1949: 9; Honri 1950a: 117). 

Although temporary studios erected in built-up areas were generally able to make use of pre-existing power supplies, even if these needed to be supplemented on occasion, portable generators had to be taken to the more rural locations. Barra had yet to be electrified when the Whiskey Galore! unit arrived on the island, meaning that all the electricity used to produce the film was made using equipment and resources brought up from London – a lorry whose petrol engine drove a 24kw generator, and a trailer fitted with plant providing an additional 30kw: combined these gave 500 amperes, sufficient to power pretty much any combination of the unit’s 46 lights. At Crinan, a generator was mounted on a boat on the nearby canal (Kinematograph Weekly, 30 April 1953: 25). Electricity was, of course, a fire hazard and great care was taken to guard against the dangers it posed: soundproofing materials were treated so as to make them fire-retardant, whilst fire extinguishers were installed and doors were rehung so that they opened outwards.

Layout of Ealing’s temporary studio in Bermondsey, used in filming Pool of London.

In addition to acting as improvised sound stages, temporary studios also fulfilled other important functions. Temporary studios provided production offices and dressing rooms; sometimes these spaces were already in place – the Electric cinema’s old box-office became a make-up room – and sometimes they were erected using plywood brought from the studio (Kinematograph Weekly – British studios supplement, 24 June 1948: xxxiii). The warehouse on Marine Street in Bermondsey was initially rented for use as a catering facility after Ealing worked out that it would be cheaper to feed the Pool of London location unit using its own canteen than it would be to hire an external contractor. It was also used as a lock-up: rather than transporting equipment back to Ealing when it was not in use it could be stored securely close to where it was needed. Starting each day on location, rather than assembling at Ealing and driving the ten miles to Bermondsey, a journey that might take an hour, saved considerable amounts of time (Honri 1950b: 7). The Marine Street warehouse was also large enough to include a small theatre for viewing the day’s rushes, and it was easier to match shots when the cutting room and editor was in the same city as the camera. (Other studios had to make alternate arrangements: on Barra footage – which had to be sent back to London for processing – was watched in a makeshift theatre in another church hall, whilst for Blue Scar the rushes were viewed in a nearby cinema.)  

Many, if not all, of the buildings in which Britain’s post-war temporary studios were located have been pulled down, a fate they shared with many disused permanent studios. Yet whereas the former studios at Shepherd’s Bush, Cricklewood and Islington have been commemorated in street and building names, there are few physical traces, if any, to mark the locations of the temporary studios and the fleeting relationships they had with British film production. Rather, the legacy of these mayfly studios, which existed only briefly before vanishing, can be found in the films made within their walls, and in the ways they might encourage us to think differently about what we understand a film studio to be.

References

P. G. Baker (1946), ‘Annual studio survey’, Kinematograph Weekly, 19 December, pp. 250-1, 255, 299.

Monja Danischewsky (1948), ‘Water galore – in Barra’, Film Industry, 2 December, pp. 6-7, 18.

Monja Danischewsky (1949), ‘Remote location filming’, Kinematograph Weekly – British Studio Supplement, 30 June, p. 9.

Baynham Honri (1950a), ‘Technical requirements of a mobile studio unit for feature films’, Journal of the British Kinematograph Society, 16:4, p. 110.

Baynham Honri (1950b), ‘Ealing’s Bermondsey studio’, Kinematograph Weekly – British studio supplement, 9 November, p. 7.

M. J. Morahan (1951), ‘Modern trends in art direction’, British Kinematography, 18:3, pp. 76-83.

Steven Morgan (2012), ‘Ealing’s Australian adventure’, in Mark Duguid, Lee Freeman, Keith M. Johnston and Melanie Williams (eds), Ealing Revisited (London: BFI, 2012), pp. 165-74.

John Shearman (1946), ‘Wartime wedding’, Documentary News Letter, 6:4, p. 53.

The Pinewood Merry-Go-Round studio magazine

By Sarah Street

Film studios were communities of workers who established close bonds through the collective enterprise of film production. They employed many diverse occupations, including canteen employees, art directors, costume designers, hairdressers, secretaries, publicists, electricians, and carpenters. Establishing a sense of community was important, especially when working conditions could be pressured and intense, with each production throwing up new challenges, especially when working within tight budgets and time constraints. Surviving documentation on the social lives and activities of film studio employees is rare to find, even though we know that several British studios produced in-house magazines. One such example is the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round magazine, published by Independent Producers from August 1946 to December 1947. This publication provides a rare glimpse into how studio employees bonded through sports and social clubs, music and film groups, organising a Christmas pantomime, art exhibitions, sharing studio gossip and reports on particular issues of concern such as transport to work and long working hours. At a time when paper was still rationed, the magazine was rather lavishly produced, with a glossy colour cover design.

The first issue’s editorial declared the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round’s purpose as ‘an interesting, informative and amusing magazine for all Pinewood people, written and illustrated by them’. It stated further that: ‘Nothing will be included that is not of interest to Studio people themselves. It must be remembered however, that copies are bound to find their way into the hands of “outsiders”, so we must make every effort to do ourselves justice’. The magazine was posted free of charge to every member of the studios once a month, and the Acting Editor Joy Redmond, a film publicity director, called for contributions: ‘We need short stories, cartoons, details of any hobbies you have, technical articles that are of interest to us all; sketches, amusing incidents and bits of gossip that are always happening in the studios and hundreds of other items that will make the magazine representative of you all’. Redmond was succeeded as Editor in October 1946 by journalist Tom Moore who occupied the role for the magazine’s short lifetime. The magazine provided a ‘pass’ into the studio like no other, as captured by this cartoon printed in the first issue.

By November 1946 the magazine had established a clear role for itself, its success leading to a broadening of its scope, as noted in the editorial: ‘There can be few industries which call for greater team-work than ours. The more a film worker knows about the broad principles of the other man’s job and what he is trying to get at, the greater will be his own contribution to the general efficiency of his studio and ultimately, of course, to his own well-being’. Both unions and managers were represented, the former writing columns and reports on key issues such as poor transport links to and from the studio and working hours, while J. Arthur Rank’s involvement as President of the Music, Art and Drama Group reflected his enthusiasm for such activities and the magazine’s role in helping to spread knowledge about what everyone did in the studios. The transport issue rumbled on over several issues and was linked to the ‘very poor’ response to an appeal in October 1946 for those interested in forming a Social and Sports Club. The transport problem was blamed since employees were worried about getting home after Club events. Rank promised to secure better bus transport and appointed a Transport Minister ‘but the fact remains that the transport position is unsatisfactory’, and some employees were in favour of Rank building houses near Pinewood. One carpenter wrote a letter to the magazine on the subject. The journey to work took him two and a quarter to two and a half hours and the same time to get home: ‘Being on night shift I have to leave home at 5.30pm at the latest and do not get back until after 10am. At the most, I get in about 5 hours sleep. These travelling times are in normal weather conditions. With the present winter snow, I realise that I just could not make it, so stop away. I have hunted high and low for other accommodation nearer Pinewood, and during the past year even slept in a tent in the orchard by the gate. Is it any wonder that I arrive at work tired, sometimes (very often, in fact) late and lost time through being indisposed. Could not the studio provide somewhere for long-distance workers to sleep? It would repay them many times over in time saved. I am a keen sportsman and would wholeheartedly support the Sports Club, but cannot under the present conditions. I would like to add that I like my job and find D. & P. studios the best of them all – having tried the lot’. However others, particularly workers in the Art Department, opposed living very close to the studios. They were not impressed with the Hollywood model or living with the same people they worked with day in day out. A humorous poem captures something of the strong views and emotions involved in the housing issue.

Regular features included the Pinewood log and gossip section. One item reported: ‘The Fitting Room cat recently produced four kittens who considered the lathes, drills and milling machines ideal playthings. General relief is now felt by all in the Shop – the kittens have been distributed among less dangerous departments, with their tails intact!’ Another shared a welcome by-product of a recent production: ‘Anybody feeling that the English summer has let them down, can borrow tropical clothes and sit under the Bamboo trees that have been made for Black Narcissus. Rumour has it that the men working on these models have been nicknamed “The Bamboo-zle-ers!”’ Some employees were highlighted in special reports such as on Ben Goff, General Foreman of Messrs. Boots, engaged in construction work in the studios. Goff had been employed as a brick-layer foreman when Pinewood was being built in 1934. He was back at Pinewood in October 1946 supervising construction work with four colleagues who worked with him when the first bricks were laid in the studios. He recalled that the first brick was laid by Mrs Spencer Reis, wife of Charles Boot whose engineering and building company designed and constructed the studios following Boot’s purchase in May 1935 of extensive parkland and Heatherden Hall, a country mansion, located at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. An early image shows the studios, Heatherden Hall and gardens shortly after operations had commenced.

In November 1946 veteran film producer Cecil Hepworth visited Pinewood and was shown around by an old friend. The report detailed how they discussed the export of British films, a topic the magazine reflected on by publishing choice quotations from American publications about the British films spearheading Rank’s post-war export drive. Technicians who had worked in the studios for a long time were applauded, such as Frank Ellis, 1st Camera Assistant on Green for Danger (1946), the first film to re-open the studios, who had worked on the first camera ever to turn at Pinewood. Before the studios were officially opened in 1935 an acoustic test was arranged by the Hon. Richard Norton, and Ellis came over from Elstree to assist. Another ‘old inhabitant’ of Pinewood was Robert ‘Reg’ J. Blackburn, Chief Electrician. Reg worked at Pinewood from the day the studios opened until they were closed during wartime. 

Pinewood’s social calendar included the Paint Shop’s outing to Southend in November 1946, and in July 1947 there was a joint Denham and Pinewood day trip to Margate. The party travelled in coaches and the attractions included lunch at ‘Dreamland’, tea and an all-star variety show in the evening. 

The magazine regularly reported sports and other competitive activities. The darts section of the Sports and Social Club had the biggest following. A competition held in May 1947 involved a stars’ team playing The News of the World’s visiting team. Cecil Parker threw the winning dart that won the competition for the stars. A report noted that the Pinewood ‘Sparks’ football team would be grateful for more support for their matches because when they played Denham’s ‘Sparks’ team on their home ground of the Pinewood lot in December 1946, there were only two supporters present. Denham fans were better represented, and they beat Pinewood by six goals to five. Pinewood’s team colours were white shirts with green cuffs and collars and the three pine trees of D&P’s trademark on the pocket. A British Film Industry Sports and Gala Day was held at Uxbridge RAF Stadium in September 1947. Ealing won overall, and the report noted ‘many exciting races’ took place. The runners-up were Technicolor, with Denham third, and Pinewood, one point behind, came fourth. A further note comments on the event’s convivial, social function: ‘The prevailing spirit of friendly rivalry encouraged competitors and spectators alike to meet and mix with colleagues from other studios’. 

Occasionally the magazine provides glimpses into the operations of other studios. An article on Marc Allégret, a French director who arrived in Pinewood straight from a French studio in January 1947 to direct Blanche Fury, is a case of particular interest to STUDIOTEC. He recalled how in France working hours were restricted owing to an acute shortage of electrical power. This meant increased night work when more power was available because of the drop in industrial and domestic consumption. Allégret compared current conditions in French studios with those prevailing at Pinewood. He observed how when faced with a ‘rain’ shot British electricians didn’t have to worry over the very real possibility of someone getting a severe shock should the water contact aged and worn cables that should have long since been scrapped. He also claimed that Pinewood’s floor units were not forced into inactivity by the acute shortage of equipment affecting studios in France. Another difference was lack of heating in French studios which meant cameramen were forced ‘to add insult to injury by making their shivering subjects suck ice cubes during “takes” in an effort to minimise fog caused by warm breath meeting frost-cold air’. Despite these problems Allégret noted that the French studios were still making good pictures, referencing the success in London of Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Allégret had worked in the UK previously on trick shots in the ‘flying carpet’ sequence in The Thief of Bagdad (1940). The report closed with an interesting comment on studio methods, and the exchange of ideas between workers and managers: ‘The equipment and material here has impressed him tremendously – but equally so did the men who use it and their methods. Soon after he arrived here Marc attended a meeting of the Studio Works Committee; he came out full of enthusiasm for what to him, was a new and thrilling departure in the business of picture making. In French Studios there exists no such system whereby the employee and employer can meet for the express purpose of exchanging ideas for the improvement of their industry. He has already written to France, urging them to adopt a similar system in studios over there. Perhaps this is the forerunner of the interchange of talent and ideas he so earnestly hopes to see develop between his country and ours’. This comment reflects the great instability in employment for French technicians in 1947-48 when there were mass redundancies. Workers were in discussions with unions, but the quick turnover of employment from studio to studio meant it was difficult to establish dialogue with managers in terms of improving working methods.

In December 1946 George Busby, production manager and assistant producer for The Archers reported on looking for locations in France and Italy. Busby went to Cinecittà when it was being used as a camp for displaced persons. He found the studios in Rome to be very well equipped ‘although the employment of tubular scaffolding for set building has only just been introduced. Hitherto wood has been in plentiful supply’. This was considerably later than in Britain, as reported in a previous blog on tubular scaffolding, and where there was a severe timber shortage in 1947. In Nice Busby considered the studios to be well-equipped, ‘with sets of a quality second to none’, and he witnessed the first colour film in the post-war period being processed in Agfacolor. In Paris, Busby visited Pathé and the old Paramount studios. Another issue featured an article by British matte painter and storyboard artist Ivor Beddoes on Arab films. Such incidents and reports opened-up the magazine’s content to international film news.

The magazine was well-produced, featuring cartoons by studio employees. One cartoon published in the October 1946 issue was titled ‘Pinewood Phantasmagoria!’ 

In the same issue ‘The Art Director’s Dilemma’ depicted a playful comment on perspective.

In December 1947 the last issue of the Pinewood-Merry-Go-Round was published. The reasons given were continuing paper shortages and the amount of time it took to produce each issue. In the context of continuing post-war austerity the editors decided to cease publication because: ‘We cannot argue that [the magazine] is really essential’. This verdict was not without regret since its purpose had helped to ‘create a good spirit all round’ the studios, and ‘we can look forward to its return when the crisis is over’. This didn’t happen, so the existing record cannot be compared with a later publication from Pinewood. For the years 1946-47 the magazine however provided many insights into what it felt like to work in a studio and how workers socialised outside of work hours. As well as documenting a wide range of activities the magazine had drawn attention to novel uses of Pinewood’s spaces such as an Art Exhibition staged in the South Corridor, and training for a forthcoming boxing tournament carried out in a marquee erected in the paddock area. The convivial tone of the publication reflects something of studio employees’ energy, enthusiasm and curiosity about each other’s lives and work in the shared enterprise of British filmmaking at a crucial time in its history.

Women behind the scenes in German film

By Eleanor Halsall

As it did elsewhere, the German film industry exerted a magnetic pull on its public. Many women aspired to a career on the screen, only to be disappointed when intense competition meant that they were unable to secure work, even as extras. Film stars of both genders added glamour to the profession and were attributed royal status in the cheap novellas flaunting titles like Der Filmgott, Die Kinoprinzessin and Die Filmdiva.

‘2000 girls want to work in film – the great desire that life does not fulfil’. Blatt der Hausfrau, June 1934, Issue 19, p. 524.

Magazines ran articles advising how their readers might break into film; consequently their letter pages were inundated with pleas for advice. Other publications nurtured readers’ ambitions by hinting at the industry’s allegedly magical qualities – evident with titles such as Im Zauber des Films (The magic of film, Brie, 1920) or Ins Zauberreich des Films (Into the magic realm of film, 1930). But the latter, written by Georg Viktor Mendel whose experience as director, writer, cameraman and film architect qualified him to offer insights into a variety of film careers, was directed squarely at boys.

[Isabel] let the film strip glide carefully through her hands: it did not roll across the floor like a giant snake, as happened often enough with her lord and master, but it was neatly round into rolls. She quickly measured out the scenes and spliced them together

Tanz ums Licht

Tanz ums Licht (Dance around the light, Boehm, 1925) resorted to the archetypal narrative of the hapless female – in this case a film splicer (Kleberin) – who is rescued from the obscurity of the dark laboratory where she pieces together the film strips. It doesn’t matter that Isabel has an excellent reputation for her skills as a splicer and editor, the director insists she must take up the mantle of film star! It must have been pure coincidence that she quickly replaces his recently abandoned lover, an actress whose face has begun to betray her days past 30…

In one case of life mimicking art – at least as far as work was concerned – Irene von Meyendorff, a trainee editor working at Babelsberg, was discovered by producer Karl Ritter and offered a leading role in Die letzten vier von Santa Cruz/The last four of Santa Cruz, 1935. This would be the first in a long screen career.

A leap into the leading role, Sport im Bild, vol. 1, 1936.

Restrictions on working time, a ban on night shifts, the exclusion of specific locations and industries (especially bar work!) – the patriarchal tendency of employment law in the Weimar era stipulated enhanced protection for minors and women. Arguably this may have made it difficult for women to enter certain professions, such as lighting engineers required to work at height, or camera operators who had to manipulate heavy apparatus. More likely, however, is that these technical professions were simply not considered as suitable Frauenberufe – occupations for women.

Summarising the law in 1929 as it applied to actors and film directors, the author explained that ‘specific persons were not allowed to agree their own contracts, including children under 13, minors aged 13-21 and … married women’ (Dienstag: 1929, p. 37). Although he pointed out that a degree of female autonomy was enshrined in the Bürgerliche Gesetzbuch (the Civil Code) which entitled a woman to enter into film contracts ‘without her husband’s consent’ this right might nevertheless be overridden via the Vormundschaftsgericht (the Guardianship Court) if the husband felt that his wife’s activity might ‘impair the marital interests’ (Dienstag: 1929, p. 45). Clearly in this period a woman could not take her right to employment for granted, at least not if she was married.

With their rigid notions of gendered roles, the National Socialist regime agitated against wives who went out to work, shaming their families as Doppelverdiener (dual income families) and accusing women of stealing men’s jobs; rhetoric that no doubt found favour with unemployed men. By 1944, however, the available German workforce had shrunk to 29 million from 39 million at the start of the war. Inevitably, because so many men had been enlisted, these figures were not evenly reflected across genders. The number of eligible female workers – classed as jobless women without children under 14 – barely shifted from 14.6 million in 1939 to 14.9 million in 1944 (Kramer: 2002, p. 46). The pressures of labour shortages intensified across all industries, including film production; demands that were only partly met with foreign workers recruited from abroad, and huge numbers of Zwangsarbeiter (forced labourers).

Post-war film production would create greater opportunities for women to enter a range of film professions, particularly with the establishment of DEFA in 1946 which saw a significant number of women working as editors, camera operators and film directors. 

A membership report from the Reichsfilmkammer (RFK) at the end of 1940 revealed that all film professions remained dominated by men, often to the complete exclusion of women. Only acting had slightly more women than men: 1,429 against 1,408.

Vom Film in Deutschland, Schweizer Film, Vol. 7, Issue 99, p. 21.

The historian of German film has an advantage in the sheer volume of bureaucratic records that have survived. These are documents that tell us not just who worked on a film, but also provide information about contractual arrangements, rates of pay, workplace accidents or disciplinary concerns. It is these lists that enable the names of female workers on the creative and technical side of film production to be teased out. 

Allocation sheet for Wo ist Herr Belling dir. Erich Engel, 1944, listing Elly Rauch as assistant director, Hildegard Grebner as editor, with Berta Bernhard and Luise Lehmann as make-up artists. BArch R 109-II/32.

These documents describe a correlation with political shifts and economic pressures as their numbers ebbed and flowed in the studios. So far our research has collected more than 430 names of women working in different film professions, some of whom had experience in more than one area. 

Although the list includes some women who began work after 1945, accessibility of digitised documents during the pandemic means that the emphasis so far is on women who were working between 1930 and 1945. What the RFK list does not mention, presumably because the role fell under a different section of the Cultural Chamber, is that the profession of script writer, among whom the best known is Thea von Harbou, included at least another 87 women.

Which film careers were open to women before 1945?

In the 1920s, publications explored careers that women might consider. Berliner Leben regularly focused on the employment and rights of women, extolling the work of female pioneers in areas such as aviation, patent law or medicine. The magazine also explored the potential for women to work within the film industry, running features about successful female set designers or animation artists, among them Edith Seehafer and Lotte Reiniger. One Austrian publication invited women and girls to consider other film professions such as the Kleberin (splicer); the costumier, the film secretary, hairdresser, bookkeeper and distributor (Volksfreund August 1930). 

The animation artist / Filmzeichnerin

‘This modern profession for women has good prospects and favourable earning potential’ declared a 1928 issue of Berliner Leben which introduced readers to the work of Edith Seehafer (p. 5). Having been spotted for her artistic talents, Seehafer achieved rapid  success within a year establishing her own company, Werbefilm GmbH, and working independently making short animation films for advertising. Perhaps because of this focus, Seehafer does not appear on Filmportal in spite of having been credited with more than 100 films. Nevertheless, she represented one of the more significant film careers for women. 

Edith Seehafer at the animation desk, Berliner Leben, Issue 31, 1928.

Unlike Seehafer’s experience, for many women who entered this field, the work of the animation artist tended to take the more passive form of copying somebody else’s work. A short documentary made in 1956 Zauber im Zeichenfilm (Magic – again! – in Animation) introduces the viewer to the work of the animation artist. The film intersperses scenes from an animated advertising cartoon with behind-the-scene shots from the studio. Here we see rows of desks furnished with drawing materials. At each desk a woman sits bent over an image, painstakingly drawing individual repetitions to reproduce the tiniest motion on the final film. ‘These women do not run away’, the narrator tells us. ‘They stay at their desks as if rooted to the spot, drawing for hours, days, weeks and months. Is this a profession?’ he asks. ‘Is it enthusiasm or obstinacy or passion? Or might it be all of these combined?’ It is a task demanding exceptionally precise work; and it is a task dominated by women with their more slender hands. The speaker’s avuncular tones marvel at the care and attention to detail, and the endless repetitions they must make, but his tone also implies that they are compliant and obedient – in other words, good employees.

In Frame by Frame, the late Hannah Frank investigated the work of the animation artist in America, there too a field dominated by women. Frank carried out her own painstaking research, scrutinising hundreds of thousands of images to reveal evidence of the person behind each drawing; to lift their anonymised lives from the page through evidence of smudges, hairs, whorls on fingers which laid bare the human essence of the artist as she worked on an image. They were not the original artists and, as was common, their names did not appear in a film’s credits. ‘These women were separated from the creative process, even as what they produced was intrinsic to the final product… it is the traces of their hands that we see on-screen’ wrote Frank (2019, p. 81).

The editor and the splicer / Cutterin und Kleberin

Two significant roles for women during this period were that of the editor and the splicer; the latter generally a first step towards becoming an editor. Both requiring delicate manual work, precise attention to detail, and characteristically sedentary work with long hours. ‘No one speaks about the editor … the person who unites image and sound’, wrote one magazine. ‘It would be an injustice if the cinemagoer did not learn about the huge amount of work, trouble and stress that goes into the editing of the film’. The article discussed the work of Else Baum, a highly sought-after editor rented out as a unit with the relevant machinery but who didn’t even get to the premieres of the films she edited because by that time ‘she is resting in a rented room, pleased at last to have peace and quiet for a day and wondering if this is even a human existence’ (Der Kuckuck. 1932). 

Elsa Baum, one of the best-known editors in Germany. Der Kuckuck.

The continuity girl / Skriptgirl

While an editor’s job was more easily defined, in Germany that of the person responsible for ensuring continuity between shoots appears to have suffered from a lack of, ahem, continuity. Is this vital work carried out by the production secretary or the studio secretary? Is it done by the Filmbearbeiterin or the production assistant? One article described the role as ‘the woman who knows everything’ (Mein Film, August 1946) while an earlier comment stressed the importance of the work at the same time as it patronised the worker: ‘The scriptgirl is essential to every film shoot. She’s at least as important as the cameraman – perhaps even more so. The cameraman can be replaced, but not the scriptgirl. After all, who could quickly pick up those last minute details? It’s not enough to read her notes, for she holds thousands of other details in her pretty little head’ (Das kleine Frauenblatt, 1938). 

A unique position

To round off this blog I would like to mention Herta Jülich who specialised in micro-photography, one of a kind in Germany at the time and, it was claimed, world-wide? Jülich featured regularly in publications and sometimes appeared in Ufa’s promotional newsreels for her work in the world of micro photography. Having worked as a technical assistant to a hygienist during WW1, Jülich became a radiologist and phlebotomist for doctors before she was invited by Dr. Ulrich K. T. Schulz to join him in his work at Ufa making cultural films about the tiniest creatures that required huge amounts of patience, steady hands and good eyesight. Articles about Jülich tend to treat her as a serious filmmaker.   

References 

Anon, Badener Zeitung, Der deutsche Kulturfilm und seine Themenwelt, 10 February 1945, p. 3.

Anon, Berliner Leben, Die Trickzeichnerin: ein neue Frauenberuf, Vol. 31, 1928, p. 5.

Anon, Berliner Leben, Kulissen: ein weites Feld für Frauenarbeit, Vol. 30, 1927, p. 8.

Anon, Der Kuckuck, Eine Frau wird verliehen, 4 September 1932, p. 15.

Anon, Mein Film, Das Skriptgirl, die Frau die alles weiss, 30 August 1946, p. 8.

Anon, Salzburger Zeitung, Mikro-Farbfilm, 7 July 1943, p. 8.

Anon, Schweizer Film, Vom Film in Deutschland, Vol. 7, Issue 99, p. 21

Anon, Sport im Bild, Unser Sprung in die Hauptrolle, Vol. 1, 1936, p. 10.

Anon, Volksfreund, Der Film als Frauenberuf, 30 August 1930, p. 5.

Melanie Bell, Movie Workers: the women who made British Cinema, 2021.

Walter Julius Blöm, Tanz ums Licht, 1925.

Woldemar Brinkmann, Die Filmprinzessin, 1920.

C. Deinzendorf, Die Filmdiva, 1925.

Paul Dienstag, Der Arbeitsvertrag des Filmschauspielers und Filmregisseurs, Schriften des Instituts für Arbeitsrecht an der Universität Leipzig. Hft. 20. 1929.

Edmund Edel, Der Filmgott, 1921.

Hannah Frank. Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons, 2019. Frame by Frame (oapen.org)[accessed 11 August 2021]

Jeanpaul Goergen, Im Schatten von Reiniger und Riefenstahl: Filmwege von Frauen im deutschen Animations-, Dokumentar- und Kulturfilm bis 1945https://mediarep.org/bitstream/handle/doc/13869/Goergen_2002_Im-Schatten-von-Reiniger-und-Riefenstahl_.pdf?sequence=4 [accessed 15 June 2021]

‘Irma‘, Berliner Leben, Lotte Reinigers Silhouettenfilme, Vol. 30, September 1927, p. 13.

Cornelia Klauß, Ralf Schenk (Eds.) Sie : Regisseurinnen der DEFA und ihre Filme, 2019. 

Nicole Kramer, Haushalt, Betrieb, Ehrenamt: Zu den verschiedenen Dimensionen der Frauenarbeit im Dritten Reich, in: Arbeit im Nationalsozialismus. 2002, pp. 33-51.

Otto Th. Kroptsch, Das kleine Frauenblatt, Neue Frauenberufe: Skriptgirl, Schnittmeisterin, Kleberin, p. 10.

H. Leèfbre, Berliner Leben, Sollen Sie filmen? Lassen Sie es lieber! Vol. 30, March 1927, p. 7. 

Dr. Georg Victor Mendel, Ins Zauberreich des Films, Bongs Jugendbücherei, 1930.

Dr Ellen Riggert, Znaimer Tagblatt, Eine Frau filmt die Kleintierwelt, 7/8 August 1943, p. 5.

Dr Josephine Widmar, Blatt der Hausfrau, 2000 Mädchen wollen zum Film, 1933-34, p. 524.

Colonies de vacances (holiday camps) for the children of French cinema employees

by Sue Harris

The social aspects of the life studio workers came into focus recently at one of our team seminars on the topic of ‘Time and Leisure in the Studios’ led by Morgan Lefeuvre and Richard Farmer. Their presentations on the organised collective activities (sporting events, gala days, festive parties) of specific studios in London and Paris stressed the many local connections between studios and the communities in which their workers lived, and the ways in which studio employment marked the family life of employees in ways that were more than simply economic. This prompted me to remember my own family’s connections with the Vauxhall Motors factory in Luton (which employed some 36,000 locals in the 1950s), and whose looming presence and paternalistic ethos gave structure to my childhood in the 1970s (Saturday ballroom dance classes at the Vauxhall Recreation Club, the thrill of seeing celebrity guests at the annual July Sports Day, goodie bags and Christmas presents on the annual coach ride to the pantomime in Bedford or Golders Green). And while much history has been written about the iconic cars developed on the Luton site, and the importance of the factory to the local economy, there is now little trace (beyond the shared nostalgic memories of my peers) of the social and cultural influence of this employer on the structural fabric of our lives in our childhood.

A key link between the lives of children of industrial workers in France and the professional employment of their parents was through summer holiday camp provision. The colonies de vacances movement was a social movement established in France in the late nineteenth century, anchored in principles of health, hygiene and education. Concern about the general health of urban children, and particularly fear of diseases like tuberculosis, gave rise to a powerful civic belief in the benefits of fresh country air, collective living and purposeful leisure activity. Initially fostered by benevolent church and municipal organisations, and dynamised by increased workplace unionisation, the movement gathered momentum throughout the early twentieth century, transforming in 1937 (under the auspices of progressive Popular Front Health Minister Henri Sellier) from a fragmented and localised movement into a regulated national framework. Some 420,000 children were accommodated in a network of rural sites in the 1930s pre-war years (Lee Downs, 17) and a 1956 review of a contemporary study of the phenomenon of the holiday camp noted that:

France has produced a remarkable achievement in a vast network of colonies de vacances. Here, every year, considerably more than 1,000,000 town children, most of them under 14 years of age, enjoy four weeks of creative holiday experience. The distinctive features of colonies de vacances are permanent premises, equipped with all essential amenities but with no luxuries; sites variously placed at high, medium and low altitudes and by the sea; specially trained staffs of moniteurs and monitrices who also know how to make wet days into happy ones; proper nursing and culinary staff; a culturally creative plan which, with suitable modifications, underlies all colonies.

Dobinson, 1956, 225.

For most working-class children the colonie de vacances was their formative experience of travel and vacation, and children of parents in the cinema industry were no different. Contributions to the mutuelle du cinéma in the 1930s (a voluntary insurance scheme that ensured sickness provision for industry workers), gave access to rural camps located in regions like the Ile de France and Val de Loire; camps that were sometimes only 30-50km from Paris, but were a world away in terms of geographical and social experiences. We have found reports of les enfants du cinéma (as the children of cinema industry professionals, including those of studio technicians and creatives were known), spending summers in repurposed country estates with vast parklands and glamorous names like the Château de la Michaudière (La Ferté Alais), the Château de Villefallier (Jouy-le-Potier), and the Château de la Tuilerie (Dammartin-en-Goële).

A postcard home from the colonie de vacances at Château de Villefailliers, featuring an image of the dormitory (c. 1959).

By the end of the 1950s, les enfants du cinéma were heading further afield, for holidays in winter resorts and coastal towns such as Cap Ferret near Bordeaux. High profile charity events such as the gala nuit du cinema held at the prestigious Parisian Gaumont Palace on 5th May 1951 saw stars of the calibre of Françoise Rosay, Paulette Dubost, Nicole Courcel and Claude Dauphin unite to raise funds for les œuvres sociales (social benefits for workers), including on this occasion the colonie de vacances programme (Paris-presse, L’Intransigeant, 1951; La Cinématographie française 1407, 1951).

Holiday camps were generously subsidised for working parents who subscribed to the post-war entr’aide du cinéma (a collective fund that replaced the pre-war mutuelle insurance, and adverts urging workers to subscribe to the entr’aide du cinema, and promoting its benefits appeared frequently in La Cinématographie française in the early 1950s.

A front page appeal by Jean Petitbarat, General Secretary of the colonie de vacances programme for the cinema industry, for financial support to maintain and develop the programme. The Château de la Thuilerie is featured (1952).

Worker-parents, whose legal entitlement to paid holidays amounted to four weeks per year at a time when children’s holidays were still organised around rural agricultural seasons (long summers to help with the harvest) were incentivized to send their children out of the city for a month at a time. In 1950, a full-board four week stay at the Château de Vaires (Loire Inférieure) cost 370 francs per day, plus rail fares of up to 1424 francs (depending on the age of the child), and appropriate clothing and footwear had to be provided (La cinématographie française, 1950). This, as well as the 4000 francs deposit required to secure a place, would have been beyond the means of many lower paid and unskilled workers such as stagehands or seamstresses at a time when the average unskilled wage was around 12,000 francs per month (La Cinématographie française, 1950). But entr’aide subscribers benefitted from a daily reduction of 120 Francs on the whole stay, amounting to considerable savings of around 3,360 francs over the month.

Although holidays as such were curtailed in wartime, holiday camps established in the 1930s and earlier nevertheless played an important role as evacuation centres, providing respite and security for French children. Children from the industrial Boulogne-Billancourt area of Paris (where the Billancourt studios stood cheek by jowl with the massive Renault car factory) were evacuated en masse following bombings by the RAF and US Army Air Force in Spring 1942 and 1943 respectively. Many Parisian children were billeted with rural families in under-populated areas such as le Creuse, but many enfants du cinéma found themselves rehoused at the Château de la Michaudière in its new guise as a ‘centre de protection’ (La France socialiste, 1943). A Monsieur Claude P is cited on a website dedicated to the history of the town of La Ferté Alais (Essonne), recalling that:

During the war our father worked in the cinema industry and my brother and I spent many months at the Château de la Michaudière where we had school in the morning and outdoor games in the afternoon. The monitors were wonderful, they were top athletes, and life there was so healthy that there was virtually no illness among the two hundred or so of us there.

Philippe Autrive

The accompanying wartime newsreel extract shows scenes of les enfants du cinéma taking part in organised sporting activities in the grounds of the Château de la Michaudière in 1943, and a cheque for 10 million francs, raised by cinema audiences in another fundraising scheme (la semaine du cinéma), being presented by André Debrie of the National Cinema Committee. In July 1943, 150 evacuee children were in residence in La Ferté Alais for five months, while 350 were accommodated at the Collège Jacques Amyot in nearby Melun (L’Œuvre, 1943).

220 cinema children leaving occupied Paris for 5 months at the Château de la Michaudière, L’Œuvre 22 October 1943.

The opening in 1943 of a further centre in Dontilly, near Donnemarie-en-Montois, shows the extent to which the sector was active in securing safety outside the city for its young children, and this was not limited to Paris: the children of Marseille cinema workers and prisoners of war (‘les enfants marseillais de la grande famille du film’) spent a month in 1942 in one of three colonies near Lyon (Le Journal, 1942). Evacuation was not without its dangers however, with news of an attack on a colonie de vacances near Versailles on 11 July 1944, in which numerous children were killed and injured, reported in the press (Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, 1944).

In 1946, as France readjusted to life after Occupation, new holiday camps for cinema children were opened, notably one at Campagne-lès-Hesdin, between Arras and the Channel coast, in the buildings of a substantial hospital built under Nazi occupation in 1942. Although it needed considerable refurbishment, the site was lauded for being ideal as a holiday camp, equipped as it was with high ceilings, insulation, lavatories, kitchens, showers and even a cinema for the rainy days. (La Cinématographie française 1164, 1946).

The phenomenon of the holiday camp was of interest to filmmakers as well as employers and their employees, and inevitably found its way onto celluloid. A French-Italian co-production directed by Léonide Moguy (Demain il sera trop tard, 1950) dealt with the issue of sexual attraction in a co-educational holiday camp. More substantially, René Clair, returning to France from Denham Studios in London in 1939, set about the shooting of Air pur (Clean Air), ‘a film set in a holiday camp, featuring 150 children and as many cats and dogs.’ In an interview with Lucie Derain, Clair described his project as follows:

I want to show the life of poor children, of working-class parents who, for ten months of the year live and play in the Paris back streets, live in apartments without enough light and air, and for whom the two months of the summer in the countryside are a complete escape. My film sees the children leave Paris for a holiday camp in the centre of France. I want to explore the general idea of how everyone, children and adults, can be deeply altered by a change in how they live, how a breath of fresh air can make life better.  


La Cinématographie française 1072, 1939.

Advert for Air pur that appeared in La Cinématographie française 1067, 14 April 1939.

The film was first announced in March 1939, and location shooting began in Paris on 17th July 1939 with a cast of some 300 children. Location shooting continued in the Corrèze region, with young actors Jean Mercanton and Elina Labourdette engaged as leads, and exterior shooting moved on as the summer advanced to Draguignan in the south of France. At the end of August, a vast exterior set – ‘of a size rarely seen in French studio backlots’ (Épardaud, 1939) – was under construction at Victorine Studios in Nice, and the film was both so widely anticipated and so advanced that a double page spread in Pour Vous only added to the general excitement (Pour Vous, 1939).  

Feature article on Air pur, complete with drawings and images from the shoot.

Alas, events were to overtake the production: with the military mobilization having depleted the studio workforce by 40% (La Cinématographie française 1087, 1939), the film was definitively abandoned when war broke out on 1st September 1939, an early casualty of the looming catastrophe. Clair spent the war years in exile in the USA and was unceremoniously stripped of his French citizenship by the Vichy regime in 1941. He wouldn’t make another French film until Le Silence est d’or in 1947, a lively costume drama in which he turned a romantic and nostalgic lens to life in the French studios of the silent era. It is fitting that while their parents were busy on his set in the Pathé studios at Joinville and Francoeur in Paris, the children of his crew were perhaps relishing some of the ‘clean air’ and holiday experiences he had hoped to represent only a few years earlier.

References

Anon. La Cinématographie française 1087, ‘Le travail dans les studios’, 2 September 1939, p. 5.

Anon. Le Journal, ‘Quand les gosses du cinema s’en vont à la campagne’, 22 July 1942, p.2.

Anon. L’Œuvre, ‘Les Vacances des enfants du cinéma’, 7 July 1943 (NO PAGE INDICATED).

Anon. La France socialiste, ‘Des centres de protection pour les plus petits’, 9 October 1943, p.2.

Anon. La Cinématographie française 1164, ‘Les oeuvres sociales du cinéma: L’inauguration de la colonie de vacances de Campagne-lez-Hesdin’, 13 July 1946, p.18.

Anon. La Cinématographie française 1381, 1’Nouveaux salaires d’exploitation depuis le 1er septembre’. 116 September 1950, p.22.

Anon. Paris-presse, L’Intransigeant, ‘La nuit du cinéma, samedi au Gaumont Palace’, 4 May 1951, p.6.

Anon. Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, ‘Une colonie de vacances mitraillée par l’aviation anglo-américaine’, 12 July 1944, p.2.

Anon. La Cinématographie française 1360, ‘La colonie de vacances de l’entr’aide du cinéma’, 22 April 1950, p.14.

Anon. La Cinématographie française 1407, ‘Nuit du cinéma: 5 mai au Gaumont Palace’,  10 March 1951, p.23.

Lucie Derain, ‘René Clair nous parle d’Air pur’, La Cinématographie française 1072, 19 May 1939, p.36

C.H. Dobinson, P.A. Rey-Herme, La Colonie de Vacances hier et aujoud’hui. In International Review of Education, Vol 2, No 2, 1956, pp. 224-225.

URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3441622 (accessed 10.07.2021).

Laura Lee Downs, Histoire des colonies de vacances : de 1880 à nos jours, Editions Perrin, 2009.

Edmond Épardaud, ‘Dans les studios’, La  Cinématographie française, 1090-1092, 6 October 1939, p.7.

Nino Frank, ‘René Clair et les 200 gosses d’Air pur ont pris la clef des champs’, Pour Vous 559, 2 August 1939, pp. 6-7.

Philippe Autrive, La fertéalais.com: URL: https://www.lafertealais.com/monsieur-jean-quere-animateur-de-colonie-en-1944-au-chateau-de-la-michaudiere-pres-de-la-ferte-alais/ (accessed 4 August 2021).

Silence, ça tourne! The first sound shootings in French studios

By Morgan Lefeuvre

Casting in the Tobis Studios in 1929 – The director communicates with the sound engineer using a telephone. Coll. Cinémathèque française.

‘Cinema speaks, but not for long! It’s too complicated, too scientific! […] Do you realise that if talking pictures were to last, we would all have to change jobs?’ (Pagnol: p. 18). This statement, addressed by a French producer to Marcel Pagnol in 1929 to dissuade him from trying the cinema adventure, illustrates how much the advent of talking pictures is perceived at the time as a real revolution. Beyond the soundproofing of the sets and the installation of new technical equipment, it is the whole functioning of the studios that is affected by the introduction of this new technology. In an extremely rapid and radical way, sound film imposes its law on all studio workers who, in a few months, must deeply modify their working habits, learn a new technique and a new vocabulary, become familiar with new practices, and integrate new professionals into their teams, in a word: ‘change their job’! The aim of this blog post is not to offer an in-depth analysis of this major technological and aesthetic breakthrough in the history of cinema, but rather to provide an insight into the climate of confusion, technical experimentation, but also enthusiasm and joyful fantasy that reigned in the French studios during this short and experimental period of transition from silent to sound era. This post is an invitation to immerse oneself, for the duration of a brief journey, in the bizarre and often funny atmosphere of the first French sound film shoots, which the actors and technicians of the time still remember with amusement and emotion.

From the summer of 1929 to the end of 1930, the French studios are in a state of perpetual renovation. From Nice to Joinville, from Billancourt to Épinay, new workshops and sets are built, the obsolete glass roofs removed, the sets soundproofed and new sound equipment installed. Everywhere the appearance of the sets changes, natural light disappears for good, the brick walls are lined with Celotex and new spaces are created to accommodate the sound engineers and their equipment with weird names (potentiometers, galvanometers, amplifiers, mixing tables, etc.). In most of the large studios (at Paramount in Saint-Maurice, in Billancourt or at Tobis in Épinay-sur-Seine) small rooms are built over the sets to accommodate the sound engineers and their equipment. Equipped with large, double-glazed windows, these mixing rooms allow the engineer to make the necessary adjustments to the sound recording while following the progress of the shooting on the set. In other installations (notably in the Joinville studios), the equipment is installed in heavy mobile cabins that the grips move according to the needs of the shots and changes of set. As a new central figure in the studios, the sound engineer is paradoxically invisible, isolated from the rest of the team, as described by a sound engineer in Pour Vous: ‘I am the forgotten one, the obscure worker whose domain is a small cabin lost in the depths of the studio […]’ (March 1937: p. 8). In addition, in order not to disturb the sound recording, the cameraman and his equipment are equally enclosed in a second, smaller wheeled cabin, which the stagehands are trying to move painfully to carry out dollies or panoramic shots. These new devices, which profoundly modify relations within the team and the atmosphere on the sets, have raised the curiosity of journalists who are multiplying their reports on these new sound stages.

Far from the glamorous images of talking stars celebrated at Hollywood opening nights, the descriptions of early sound filming in the French press often seek to provoke surprise, even disappointment for the reader who discovers the chaos of a film set and the rocky nature of these early sound shootings:

Hey! What, is this what a studio is? […] a three-sided set, cabins that look like tanks, a fishing rod with a microphone as bait, men with sweaty faces, blue-collared, fiddling with controllers and jabbering behind the sets, […] artists who dare not move for fear of damaging their make-up and who wait, stunned by the light, for the magic trick that will make them come alive as if they were precious dolls…yes, that’s what a studio is!

Cinémonde, April 1931: p. 213.

Sound tests in the Gaumont studios – on the right, the camera cabin covered with heavy curtains.  Coll. Cinémathèque française.

The first element highlighted by all observers is the silence imposed on everyone on the set and the new modes of communication within the film crew. Whereas in the silent era, the set was an eminently noisy and animated space (hammering, grips whistling on the scaffolding, extras chattering and instructions shouted by the director into his megaphone), the sound film suddenly imposes total silence on everyone. The red lights, along with a loud beep, appears at the set doors and crews often find it difficult to comply with this new discipline. On the set of his first sound film, Sous les toits de Paris, René Clair is even called to order by the studio’s production manager, who asks him to discipline his crews so that they did not think they were ‘allowed to go in and out of the studio, make noise etc. while the red light is on’ (BNF, fonds René Clair, 4°COL 84 / RC 09). Locked in his booth and isolated from the rest of the crew, the sound engineer communicates his instructions via a telephone connected to a loudspeaker. His definitive advice ‘OK for sound’ or ‘no good for sound’, coming out of nowhere, freezes the whole team, who look askance at this new star of the sets. ‘The booth where he stands is like a fortress, no one questions his orders’, says journalist Jacqueline Lenoir in Cinémonde (May 1934, p. 380). Ordering silence, having the power to interrupt filming or to impose his demands on the actors as well as the director or the cinematographer, the sound engineer was generally little appreciated in the French studios at the beginning of the sound era. As this extract from a report in the Pathé studios in Joinville shows:

The studio bar is filling up with people…the lady in charge points out to me a few people who have been spotlighted by the talkies […] It’s the soundman. All directors fear him. M. Marcel L’Herbier in particular curses him. He exercises a real dictatorship over the studio […]

Cinémonde, Feb. 1930: p. 88.

‘I never abuse this almost dictatorial power. I am content to demand perfect sound, voice and musical emissions’, adds Régy, the sound engineer, in an interview (Pour Vous, March 1937: p. 8). Most of the first sound engineers in the Paris studios come from the United States (more rarely from Germany) and do not speak French, bringing with them a whole Anglo-Saxon technical vocabulary which make them all the more exotic in the eyes of the teams. ‘With sound, an infinitely complex, infinitely fragile equipment entered the studio. Mysterious geniuses called microphones, amplifiers, galvanometers, photoelectric cells, fixed density and variable density suddenly appeared’, says the journalist Jean Vidal (L’Intransigeant, March 1933: p. 9). However, the studio workers are quick to reappropriate these new technical terms, transforming the ‘stageman’ into a ‘giraffe man’ and the ‘mixing room’ into a ‘sound shack’, which makes the first sound stages look like a Tower of Babel where a French-English jargon mixed with slang is spoken, much to the delight of reporting journalists. As Edwige Feuillère writes in her memoirs about her first sound experiences at the Saint-Maurice studios:

It was the international hustle and bustle of airports on the days of the big departure. All the languages were jabbered and in the work, on the sets, reinterpreted by our clever grips who understood quickly and translated immediately into Parisian or Marseilles according to their origins.

Feuillères: p. 74.

Sound engineer in his mixing-room in the Tobis studios (1930). Coll. Cinémathèque française.

Beyond these new soundscapes, what strikes the visitor who enters the Parisian studios in 1930 is the tropical heat that reigns there, whatever the season. Hermetically locked to avoid outside noise, the French sets hastily redesigned for sound films were rarely equipped with an adequate ventilation system and the air was unbreathable. Moreover, the widespread use of incandescent lamps (arc lamps cause a lot of parasitic noise) increases the heat even more and it is not unusual for temperatures to approach 40°C on the catwalks where the stagehands and electricians work. Locked up in their hermetically sealed, cork-lined cabins, the sound engineers have to endure even higher temperatures. A Comoedia journalist who came to interview engineer Antoine Archimbaud in his booth said that the thermometer read 48°C (Nov. 1930: p. 8). As for the sound engineer Roger Handjian, he recalls the shooting of Marcel L’Herbier’s Le Parfum de la dame en noir, during which the temperature rose so high on the set that the automatic fire extinguishers – which are triggered above 68°C  – went off, copiously drenching the actors, technicians, director and the hundred or so extras present on the set! (L’Écho d’Alger, June 1933: p. 4). In the suffocating heat of the sets, the most distinguished directors sometimes lose all sense of dignity and elegance, like René Hervil, whom a journalist from Pour Vous describes as follows on the set of his film Azaïs:

Under a light more dazzling and torrid than it can be in the worst Sahara, three hundred people in gala dresses are drinking and chatting in the lobby of a palace. […] Suddenly, in the middle of this sumptuous crowd, an individual dressed in a while painter’s coat, whose open flaps float over pants pleated at the calves by the sock fixers. […] The man in the pants is René Hervil. […] He has too much to do to wear trousers. Silence! Hervil thunders. Close the doors! […] It’s spinning!

Pour Vous, Jan. 1931: p. 2.

Once the scene is set, the director wipes his forehead, ‘with a towel around his neck and shoulders, like a boxing trainer’. In order to prevent the crews from suffocating completely, the doors of the set are opened wide between takes and the air is stirred with powerful fans placed in front of the doors. In winter, this causes sudden drops in temperature and the actors complain about the cold!

Shooting of La Fleur de l’Oranger, Pathé studios in Joinville, May 1932 – Coll. Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé.

But it is above all the vagaries of the microphone and the difficult control of sounds that cause visitors to be amused. Once the sets have been soundproofed and hermetically sealed, it is still necessary to hunt for parasitic noise and to try – with an often rudimentary level of equipment – to capture the voices of the actors and the various sounds necessary for the scene as well as possible. The first parasitic noise, already mentioned above, is that of the cameras themselves, which are initially enclosed in a soundproof box with the operator. This is how Marcel L’Herbier described them while shooting his first talking film, L’Enfant de l’amour:

It was quite ludicrous this ‘first one hundred percent speaking’. In the Joinville studio, which had been hastily set up for sound, I only had the noisy cameras of the late silent era. They had to be muffled so that the microphones could not hear them. But how? Our ingenious engineers thought they had found perfection by constructing a sort of bathing cabin like the ones that were rolled out to the waves for the first baths in Dieppe or Trouville. Locked inside with their ‘zinc’ [camera], my cameramen Arménise and Lucas, who were not allowed to wear a swimming costume, sweated profusely in these mobile carts. […]

L’Herbier: p. 192.

In other cases, while waiting for the blimp to appear, the operators simply cover their cameras with a heavy woolen blanket, which, as one can imagine, does not help to bear the tropical temperature of the sets! Then they must flush out all the parasitic noises that the microphones, which are still very imperfectly sensitive, amplify disproportionately. It’s the journalist who has come to see the shooting and is playing with his keys in his pocket, the newspaper leafed through by an actress whose paper makes a thunderous noise, or the young actor’s polished shoes that crunch and cover his voice. Sometimes the solution is simple – get the journalist out of the room, dampen the newspaper sheets or ask the young actor to act barefoot – but often tricks have to be found to remedy the situation. On the set of Il est charmant, actor Dranem’s new shoes caused a deafening squeal in the microphones with every step he took, so the soles had to be perforated in several places and oil injected in order to soften the leather and allow the shooting to continue. In summer, flies or bees infiltrating the studios are the bête noire of sound engineers, their incessant buzzing, amplified by over-sensitive microphones, interfering with the sound recording and causing a noise similar to that of an aircraft engine. In some studios built in a wooded environment, close to rivers or stables (such as those in Joinville, Billancourt, Saint-Maurice or Épinay-sur-Seine), the insects are so numerous that young assistants are responsible for chasing away the intruders by spraying Fly-Tox all day, which contributes to making the air on the sets particularly unbreathable! (Rochefort: p. 207)

During the very first sound shootings, all the sounds (voices, sound effects, music) were recorded live, which brought a host of new professionals to the sets and made the mixing particularly delicate, as sound engineer Régy explains: ‘During a fight in a bar […] Armand Bernard, Marguerite Moreno and Suzet Maïs had to restart their performance seven times in the middle of the fight, in the midst of growing irritation, because the perfect marriage of the various noises, broken furniture, smashed bottles, kicks and punches, exclamations and screams could not be achieved during the first rehearsal’ (Pour Vous, March 1937: p. 8). Although the presence of full orchestras and effects men of all kinds on the sets only lasted a few months (quickly giving way to prerecorded sounds and post-synchronisation), the unusual presence of effects men nevertheless left its mark on people’s minds and many articles were devoted to them in the press of the time. The image below ironically illustrates the hyperspecialisation of some of them, suggesting that with sound films it was quite easy to get paid to do nothing on the set!

La Cinématographie française, 27 September 1930, p. 42.

– What is this guy doing here?

– He is the one who in the orgy scenes imitates the sound of champagne bottles being uncorked!

Chaotic and often with limited results, the first sound shootings remain an inexhaustible source of surprises and amused memories for the technicians who lived through this crazy adventure. As Marcel L’Herbier, who despaired of being able to control the shooting of his film, wrote: ‘Finally, the moments of laughter at the surprises of the microphone and the dry bath cabin gave us back our morale’ (L’Herbier: p. 193).

References

Anon. ‘Les confidences du micro’, Comoedia, 15 November 1930, p. 8.

André Arnyvelde, ‘Dans le hall d’un palace en tournant Azaïs’, Pour Vous, n°113, 15 January 1931, p. 2.

BNF archives (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), René Clair collection, letter from Franck Clifford to René Clair, 22 January 1930, 4°COL 84 / RC 09.

Max Falk, ‘Studio ou l’on parle, studio ou l’on travaille’, Cinémonde, n°68, 6 February 1930, p. 88.

Edwige Feuillère, Les feux de la mémoire, Paris, Albin Michel, coll. Le Livre de poche, 1977.

F. Herlin, ‘Ciné-Échos’, L’Écho d’Alger, 1er June 1933, p. 4.

Jacqueline Lenoir, ‘Parlons un peu des gens de cinéma’, Cinémonde, n°290, 10 May 1934, p. 380.

Marcel L’Herbier, La Tête qui tourne, Paris, ed. Belfond, 1979.

Marcel Pagnol, Cinématurgie de Paris, Paris, ed. de Fallois, coll. Fortunio, 1991.

Régy, ‘À l’écoute… souvenirs d’un ingénieur du son’, Pour Vous, n°436, 25 March 1937, p. 8.

Max Renneville, ‘Cinémonde vous raconte… René Hervil au travail’, Cinémonde, n°128, 2 April 1931, p. 213.

Charles de Rochefort, Le Film de mes souvenirs, Paris, Société parisienne d’édition, 1943, p. 207.

Jean Vidal, ‘La parole est à l’homme du son’, L’Intransigeant, 4 March 1933, p. 9.

Supporting feature: tubular scaffolding

By Richard Farmer

Kinematograph Weekly, 24 October 1929.

Film studios are places of innovation. New technologies and creative processes are developed, adopted, adapted and eventually superseded. Some of these innovations, such as the arrival of synchronised sound or widescreen, are designed to be obvious to the viewer, to provide spectacle and inspire wonder and pleasure. But a host of other innovations go unseen, especially those that change how a film is made, as opposed to the form it takes when it is placed before the consumer. These background innovations can change day-to-day labour practices and are often introduced to make the working life of a studio more efficient and cost effective, even as they might simultaneously contribute to aesthetic change.

‘Bettaskaf’: Steel Scaffolding Co., Ltd, (Kinematograph Weekly, 24 October 1929). ‘Double Grip’: London & Midland Steel Scaffolding Co., Ltd (Kinematograph Weekly, 24 June 1948).

One such innovation, introduced to British studios in the late 1920s and early 1930s, was tubular metal scaffolding.  As an October 1929 advertisement for the Steel Scaffolding Co.’s ‘Bettaskaf’ system claimed, metal scaffolding could be used for ‘all constructional work’ in the studio:  

In the building of sets, platforms for lights and cameras, erection of scenery, temporary buildings, etc., there is nothing that ‘Bettaskaf’ will not do …  Dismantled even quicker than it is erected it can be stored away neatly until it is required again, no waste, no loss, adaptable to every need (Bettaskaf, 1929: 54). 

But wait, cried a salesman for the rival London & Midland Steel Scaffolding Co., Ltd., there’s more: 

On location work its uses are many and varied, mobile sun rostrums and spot rails, temporary dressing rooms and canteen, generator shelters, baffles for suppressing generator noises, temporary studios for shooting interiors during inclement weather (Kinematograph Weekly, 26 November 1936: 49).

Metal scaffolding was designed to replace timber and was said by manufacturers to offer such notable advantages over wood that it would ‘practically eliminate’ it as a building material in the studio (Bettaskaf, 1929: 54). The first of these advantages was cost, both in terms of labour – one report claimed that sets could be put up in one eighth of the time of a timber set – and outlay on materials – a greater upfront cost, admittedly, but its durability and reusability effecting as much as a 75% saving over time (Kinematograph Weekly, 27 June 1935: 63; Carter, 1935: 259). Metal scaffolding was fireproof, a significant point of appeal for an industry with a tendency to dangerous and expensive conflagrations, and was also strong, its greater rigidity allowing camera platforms and lighting rails to be placed ‘in positions impossible with timber, i.e. over the sides of ships, on railway engines and automobiles’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 26 November 1936: 49). Furthermore, and suggesting how different kinds of innovation intersect, proponents claimed that it was quieter to erect and use, and so more suited to use in the early sound studio: ‘if Britain is to win the fight for talking film supremacy, the microphone will eventually demand the use of the spanner as against the noise occasioned by the busy carpenter and joiner’ (Bioscope, 13 November 1929: xv). Those wielding these spanners would, within a few years, find themselves playfully dubbed ‘tuberculars’ by their colleagues (Whitley, 1935: 27).

International Photographer, August 1933.

Tubular metal scaffolding had become increasingly common in Britain during the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, possibly because of the relative scarcity of wood in the UK as compared to other countries such as the USA, where timber scaffolding continued to be used until at least the late 1920s (New York Times, 24 August 1930: W14). The eventual standardisation of pole diameters was followed by the development of a range of patented connectors and accessories that allowed horizontal, vertical and diagonal tubes to be joined in pretty much infinite combinations.  It was this flexibility that appealed to filmmakers; the modular nature of tubular metal scaffolding could be used to quickly and easily construct a lighting rig or camera crane to match the specific needs of an individual production, sequence or shot. Moreover, it could be easily disassembled when not in use, freeing up space on often cramped studio floors: as Kinematograph Weekly observed, ‘a camera crane, in the ordinary way, takes some parking when out of action’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 11 January 1934: 113).

Although stories vary as to who had the initial idea for using tubular scaffolding in British film production – some suggest that it was a studio manager, some a chief engineer, others a studio accountant – many reports focus on the fact that, as Meccano Magazine reported to its readers with no small degree of pride, inspiration was taken from a child’s Meccano set (Kinematograph Year Book, 1936: 335, 338; Coughter 1933: 415; New York Times, 7 Jan 1934: X4). What seems clearer is that in 1931 Gaumont-British became an early, and perhaps the first, adopter of this new apparatus in the context of film production in the UK, and by 1935 bragged that its Shepherd’s Bush studio was home to 100,000 ft. of tubular scaffold poles, ‘10,000 couplers, 5,000 base plates, 200 wheels (various)’ (Kinematograph Year Book, 1936: 310).  

Gaumont-British was eager to put this giant building kit to work, and almost as keen to be seen doing so. Numerous reports in both the trade and popular press from the mid-1930s refer to the uses to which studio employees were putting the company’s ‘grown-up Meccano’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 11 January 1934: 113). Oliver Baldwin, son of Stanley, excitedly informed readers of Picturegoer that when he visited the set for First a Girl (1935), he found ‘cameras, microphones, rostrums of all shapes and sizes, erected [from modular metal scaffolding] with a firmness that was unknown in the old days’ (Baldwin 1935: 8). A crane weighing an estimated 15 tons was constructed for The Iron Duke (1934), allowing cinematographer Curt Courant and his camera to gracefully track Wellington from a high-angle as he moved through a crowded ballroom (Mannock 1934: 25), whilst a dramatic mobile shot in Britannia of Billingsgate (1933) was made possible by a tubular-scaffolding slipping rostrum measuring 30 ft. long by 75 ft. high (Kinematograph Weekly, 27 June 1935: 63).  For Channel Crossing (1933), tubular scaffolding was used to build both the supporting framework of the s.s. Canterbury set and a crane large enough to accommodate camera, director and cinematographer.   

The Sphere, 23 March 1946.

The art director on Channel Crossing was Alfred Junge, one a number of German film technicians working in British studios in the 1930s who were able and willing to explore the aesthetic possibilities afforded by the new scaffolding. STUDIOTEC’s Tim Bergfelder has noted that Junge ‘revolutionised scaffolding and crane technology [in Britain], which led to an increased mobility for both sets and cameras’ (Bergfelder 2016: 25). Junge was eager – indeed, was employed – to bring a German polish to British films by replicating something of the ‘unchained camera’ that had influenced him during his formative years in Germany during the 1920s, a technique which had shaped production design and cinematography in pretty much equal measure but which, Katharina Loew suggests, was in Germany often facilitated by wooden trusses and steel cables (Loew 2021: 246-7). The flexibility and economy of tubular scaffolding made it easier for Junge to realise his creative ambitions, whilst the cost-effective nature of the system meant that studio bean-counters were perhaps more willing to let him try. As Edward Carrick noted of tubular scaffolding, its mobility was ‘a great asset’ when designing more elaborate sets that could accommodate more mobile cameras:

whole sections of walls, including windows, mantlepieces and stairways, are attached to tubular scaffolding towers which are mounted on rubber-tyred wheels. There is an inch of so clearance between the set and floor and the whole lot can be moved in and out at will (Carrick 1949: 82).

For all that German art designers and cinematographers had the skills and experience to more fully exploit the opportunities afforded by tubular scaffolding, it was heralded in many quarters as a British innovation, and one that improved the look and so the prestige of British films. The Era’s Kenneth Green, for example, observed that ‘it is satisfactory to record the ingenuities of a British device of which Hollywood knows nothing’ (Green 1933: 18). On the other side of the Atlantic, the August 1933 edition of International Photographer noted that it was ‘a surprise’ that American studios had not yet adopted tubular scaffolding (Tannura 1933: 17), whilst the New York Times, seemingly unwilling to take the British studios at their word, cautiously observed that the system was ‘regarded by American technicians as a useful development’ (New York Times, 7 Jan 1934: X4).  Further research might be needed before we can state with certainty whether British studios really did lead the way in their use of tubular scaffolding, but what is evident is that they were clearly happy to take the credit.

Kinematograph Weekly, 24 June 1948.

By the end of the 1930s, the use of tubular scaffolding was widespread in British studios, and by the late 1940s fan magazines felt comfortable dropping references to it into their articles without having to explain what it was or the influence it had had on filmmaking. What in the mid-1930s had been declared nothing less than ‘a revolution’ (Baldwin 1935: 8) had been normalised, although the changes it brought about in the industry lived on.  Indeed, it is a testament to the durability and usefulness of these metal poles and connectors that they sometimes outlived the studios in which they had been used, auctioned off when production ceased so that they could find renewed purpose elsewhere.   

References

Oliver Baldwin, ‘Behind the scenes at Shepherd’s Bush’, Picturegoer, 31 August 1935: 8-9.

Tim Bergfelder, ‘The production designer and the Gesamtkunstwerk: German film technicians in the British film industry of the 1930s’, in Andrew Higson (ed.), Dissolving views: key writings on British cinema (London: Bloomsbury, 2016): 20-37.

Bettaskaf advertisement, Kinematograph Weekly, 24 October 1929: 54.

Edward Carrick, Designing for films (London: Studio Publications, 1949).

A. L. Carter, ‘Equipment and technique in 1935’, in Kinematograph Year Book 1936 (London: Kinematograph Publications Ltd, 1935): 219-70.

Ellis Coughter, ‘The largest film studio in Europe: Gaumont-British enterprise’, Meccano Magazine, June 1933: 414-5, 470.

Kenneth Green, ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s new talkie’, The Era, 27 September 1933: 18.

Kinematograph Year Book 1936 (London: Kinematograph Publications Ltd, 1935).

Katharina Loew, Special Effects and German Silent Film: Techno-Romantic Cinema (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021).

P. L. Mannock, ‘George Arliss begins as Wellington’, Kinematograph Weekly, 6 September 1934: 25.

Philip Tannura, ‘European supremacy?’, International Photographer, August 1933: 17.

R. J. Whitley, ‘Studio “slanguage”’, Daily Mirror, 13 September 1935: 27.

The Austro-German Connection: Italy’s Transnational Films and the UK

By Carla Mereu Keating

As we continue to compile our filmographies to map regional, national, international and transnational nodes and networks of film production, several lesser-known cases of collaboration among the four countries of the project have emerged. This blog post shares ongoing research on the history of Italian film studios in the years following the domestic conversion to sound. In particular, it looks at attempts to establish a new commercial route for Italian films in the UK in the 1930s and at the role that Berlin, Vienna and London-based filmmakers played in this transnational film exchange.  

With the diffusion of synchronised sound, audiences’ language diversity posed a threat to the international circulation of films. In the early years of the transition, creative solutions were designed at the stages of production, post-production and distribution to overcome the language barrier. Content localization practices such as dubbing and subtitling, for example, were introduced with different degrees of success in Britain, France, Germany and Italy. In the UK, for example, as discussed by Carol O’Sullivan (2019: 271), the introduction of subtitles caught up later in comparison with other non-English speaking European markets, partly because of the plentiful supply of English-language films coming from Hollywood. As I have considered elsewhere, in the 1930s a number of European films also reached the UK in a dubbed version, eliciting mixed critical reviews. 

Song of the Sun was among the first (Italian) films shown on British screens dubbed. This romantic musical comedy was dubbed into English from the Italo-German dual language version La canzone del sole/Das Lied der Sonne (Neufeld, 1933), produced by the Berlin-based Italian company Itala Film. Alongside opera singer Giacomo Lauri Volpi appearing as himself, the leading actors in both versions, German Liliane Dietz and Italian Vittorio De Sica, were directed by Austrian director Max Neufeld in Berlin, at the Johannisthal studios, and in Italy, on location. In the German Das Lied der Sonne, the only version that I was able to access, De Sica constantly switches from a broken, heavily-accented German to his native Italian, adding even more flavour to the long, postcard sequences filmed in Verona, Venice, Rome, Naples and Capri.  

Dietz and De Sica in La canzone del soleCinema Illustrazione, 18 October 1933.

The opera theme and the picturesque Italian-ness on screen may have been a selling point for the English and German-speaking markets, but in Italy La canzone del sole was received in hardly complimentary terms by some film critics of the time: the film was ‘a lyrical-touristic pot-pourri’ commented Margadonna (Illustrazione Italiana 12 November 1933, cited in Chiti and Lancia 2005: 60); critic Enrico Roma also labelled it ‘a funfair of Italian voices and songs to suit the Germans, who lack their own [repertoire]’, and was reproachful of Dietz’s ‘mangled Italian pronunciation’ (Cinema Illustrazione, 15 November 1933: 12). 

Other types of localization of film content were attempted at the level of production and required more extensive financial investments than dubbing or subtitling. Paramount’s transatlantic move to the Joinville studios outside of Paris (Ďurovičová 1992) and Ufa’s longer-lasting multilingual project at Babelsberg in Berlin (Wahl 2016) are the most illustrative examples of the wide-scale studio-based efforts required in the early years of the transition to produce multiple-language versions (MLVs). At the beginning of the 1930s, neither the UK nor Italy committed to a large production of MLVs. The Italian film industry, in particular, fell behind in the race to equip for sound, Italy being the last country in the STUDIOTEC group to build soundstages and to have the spatial capacity to accommodate the requirements of multilingual production. 

If we look at the filmographic data provisionally collected for the 1930s, among the MLVs released in Italy between 1930 and 1934 only 12 were produced in Italian studios, mostly at Cines, the first facility to be equipped for sound. Strictly speaking, Italy’s MLVs were examples of dual language rather than multiple versioning, in the sense that production rarely involved more than two languages at a time (usually in Italian and French, or in Italian and German). During this four-year period, only one example, La canzone dell’amore (Righelli 1930), Italy’s first sound feature to be released, was also filmed in both French (La dernière berceuse) and German (Liebeslied) at Cines with a partially different cast and direction. In later years, the number of Italian studio facilities able to host MLVs increased, but the dual-language model remained the preferred one, with French or German being the second working language. When collecting and comparing the data at our disposal, however, we observed some curious examples of production in English, and from the late 1930s onwards, in Spanish.

The Divine Spark (Casta Diva, Gallone 1935), a romantic drama inspired by the life of Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini, is probably the most renowned example of an English-language film produced in Italy in the mid-1930s. Exploiting the opera theme in time for Bellini’s centenary commemorations, the English and the Italian-language versions, both directed by director Carmine Gallone, were shot at Cines between the end of 1934 and spring 1935 (Bono 2004: 87). Produced by the film company Alleanza Cinematografica Italiana (ACI), both versions cast Hungarian Operetta star Marta Eggerth (as Maddalena Fumaroli) who sang and acted with her own voice accompanied in the Italian version by the unknown Sandro Palmieri and in the English version by the American Philipps Holmes (as Bellini). 

Eggerth and Palmieri in Casta Diva, Cinema Illustrazione, 6 March 1935.

Not only does Casta Diva hold the distinction of being one of the few Italian films produced during these years to have an English-language counterpart, but it is also of particular interest because of the ‘Austro-German connection’. As argued by Bono (2004: 53), the idea for Casta Diva ‘filiated’ from the Austro-German opera film Leise flehen meine Lieder (Forst 1933) based on the life of Franz Schubert and produced by Cine-Allianz (later in Italy as ACI) at the Sievering film studios in Vienna. Leise flehen meine Lieder was also adapted into English in Vienna as Unfinished Symphony (Asquith 1934). Polyglot Eggerth starred again in both versions. Austrian producer Arnold Pressburger and screenwriter Walter Reisch, Czech cinematographer Franz Planer, art director Werner Schlichting and music director Willy Schmidt-Gentner (both German but working in Vienna) were involved in this dual version project. The presence of émigré filmmakers in Vienna during these years is not surprising, considering that between 1933 and 1938, when Austria was annexed, the capital had become a temporary refuge for many Jewish filmmakers forced out of Germany (Loacker 2019). The Cine-Allianz team, including production partner Gregor Rabinovitch, a Russian émigré, later worked on the production of The Divine Spark in Italy in collaboration with British Gaumont. Awarded the Mussolini Cup for best Italian film at the Venice Film Festival in 1935, the Italian-language Casta Diva was instead handled by an Italian technical crew (including Massimo Terzano, Fernando Tropea, and Enrico Verdozzi).

Another lesser-known film made in Italy in English in the second half of the 1930s points at further developments in the transnational dynamics observed above. This production was Thirteen Men and a Gun (Zampi 1938), the English-language version of Tredici uomini e un cannone (Forzano 1936), a Great-War Russian espionage thriller. Departing from the romantic Operettenfilm formula (more popular in Germany than in Italy) and featuring an all-male cast, this project aimed to attract a different segment of the market. The English version went into production in December 1937, a year after the Italian version was released, but both films were shot in Tuscany at the Pisorno studios. According to the Motion Picture Herald, ‘more than 40 British actors, cameramen and technicians’ travelled to Italy to collaborate on this production (5 February 1938: 25). A German-language version Dreizehn Mann und eine Kanone (Meyer 1938), was also filmed in 1938, but in Munich, at the Geiselgasteig studios, according to German sources.

Painting the wooden cannon prop (right), Cinema Illustrazione, 26 August 1936: 8.

These late 1930s MLVs interest us because they signal the development of a new film network between Italy and the UK thanks to the initiative of Italian-born editor, director and producer Mario Zampi working in London with Warner and Paramount and co-founder of the film company Two Cities Film. As some trade press reports indicate, Thirteen Men and a Gun was the first of a ‘consummated deal’ between Zampi and film director, playwright and Pisorno studios’ owner Giovacchino Forzano which envisioned a total of seven English-language features to be produced in Italy (The Film Daily, 31 December 1937: 12). It is still unclear how the partnership between Zampi and Forzano formed in the very first place, but the fact that there was a German-language version of Tredici uomini in production at the same time, and that Zampi was acquainted with the British director Anthony Asquith, who had worked with Cine-Allianz in Vienna a few years before, and with whom Zampi would go on to produce several films, point at an expanding trans-European network which originated from the earlier opera films.  

The making of the other six English-language films in Italy, however, never went ahead because of the outbreak of World War Two. After Italy’s declaration of war on Britain in June 1940, Zampi, being a foreign national from a country with which Britain was at war, was considered an ‘enemy alien’. Alongside some 4,000 resident Italians, he was arrested and interned in a UK holding camp while one of his Two Cities films, the anti-Nazi thriller Freedom Radio (Asquith 1941), was in production at Sound City, Shepperton Studios. Having survived the sinking of the Arandora Star, a ship headed to deportation camps in Canada, after the war Zampi continued to produce ‘quintessentially English’ films in London with the Rank Organisation. His figure will interest us further because of his later involvement in the promotion and circulation of Italian cinema in the UK in the 1950s and early 1960s. 

The lesser known film collaborations overviewed here illustrate the importance of a comparative, transnational approach when researching the history of European studios. They suggest a prolific migration of ideas and labour within the European film industry landscape of the 1930s, displaying creative attempts at producing and circulating films across national territories and application of foreign language and intercultural skills to the industry. The case studies also allow us to reflect on the tensions that exist between the place-based nature of film production and issues of lingua/culture-centrism, hinting at the dynamic transcultural experience of making films across studios and nations at a time of insurgent political and ethnic nationalism.  

References

Anon. ‘Seven English Features to Be Produced in Italy’. The Film Daily, 31 December 1937, 12.

Bono, Francesco. 2004. Casta Diva & Co. Percorsi Nel Cinema Italiano Fra Le Due Guerre. Viterbo: Sette Città.

Ďurovičová, Nataša. 1992. ‘Translating America: The Hollywood Multilinguals 1929-1933’. In Sound Theory, Sound Practice, 138–53. Routledge.

Loacker, Armin. 2019. Unerwünschtes Kino. Deutschsprachige Emigrantenfilme 1934-1937. Vienna: Filmarchiv Austria.

O’Sullivan, Carol. 2019. ‘“A Splendid Innovation, These English Titles!” The Invention of Subtitling in the USA and the UK’. In The Translation of Films 1900-1950, 267–90. British Academy, Oxford University Press.

Ravotto, Joseph. ‘Foreign Investments Aid Italian Studios’. Motion Picture Herald, 5 February 1938, 25.

Ridenti, Lucio. ‘A Tirrenia Con Due Sergenti, Tredici Uomini e Un Cannone’. Cinema Illustrazione, 26 August 1936, 5–8.

Wahl, Chris. 2016. Multiple Language Versions Made in Babelsberg: Ufa’s International Strategy, 1929-1939. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.